Friday, November 12, 2004

MORT FELDMAN / 1921-2004

Entrepreneur had
talent and heart

Mort Feldman, founder and chairman of apparel manufacturer Tori Richard Ltd., was considered by contemporaries as one of the most talented print designers that Hawaii has ever had in the apparel industry.


Mort Feldman: His business endeavors included clothing and real estate

The company, started in 1956 by Feldman and his future wife Janice Moody, was named for her daughter Victoria and his son Richard and specialized in sophisticated women's resort wear. It branched out into men's wear and grew to become one of Hawaii's best-known sportswear labels.

Feldman died Monday in Honolulu at age 83.

"Mort Feldman was a genius with an incredible eye for style and panache," said friend and business colleague Jim Romig, chairman of the board of Hilo Hattie Inc. "Nobody came close to him, and the success of Tori Richard is evidence of his unique talent."

Josh Feldman, the president and chief executive of Tori Richard, described his father as a prolific artist, entrepreneur and boss.

"He viewed every day as an opportunity to teach by example," Josh said. "That we have many employees that have been with the company for over 30 and even 40 years is testament to the kind of person he was and the way he conducted business. He laid the groundwork for current success and longevity in our nearly 50 years of business. We will all miss him greatly."

The company, based in Hawaii with offices throughout the country, employs 130 people. Tori Richard will celebrate the grand opening of its flagship store at Ala Moana Center on Sunday night.

Former Congressman and broadcast executive Cec Heftel, who was elected to the state Board of Education earlier this month, said Feldman was a great supporter of Hawaii.

"He gave me many good insights into how I could build some struggling radio and television stations into viable businesses," Heftel said. "Whatever he undertook, he did so to a great degree of success."

Feldman developed a number of real estate projects in urban Honolulu and Waikiki, including one of Hawaii's first condominium complexes, Marina Towers; the renovation and restoration of the old Primo Brewery on Cooke Street, which served as Tori Richard offices for a time; and other early Kakaako redevelopment projects through Cooke Street Land Co., which he founded with Bob Cosco.

"The renovation of the old brewery building was a remarkable achievement," said friend Joe Nicolai, president of JN Automotive. "It was an old concrete, totally 'out-of-code' structure that most developers would have torn down. But Mort respected its history and architectural integrity and went the extra mile to restore it and turn it into a useful structure."

Feldman also was noted for his generosity. An avid collector of Asian and oceanic art, he donated pieces of his collection to the Honolulu Academy of Arts over the years. He also was charitable in other ways.

A year ago, Feldman saw a news report about vandalized shuttle buses used by a local charity to service seniors. The organization did not have the resources to repair the vehicles. Feldman contacted the reporter, tracked down the agency and asked that the repair bills be sent to him, which they were.

"He was generous and caring to a fault, but he never liked recognition or publicity about the many ways he helped people," Nicolai said. "He did it very much behind the scenes and under the radar.

"That's the kind of guy he was. If you were in the Army and you had to have a buddy watch over you in the foxhole, that buddy would be Mort Feldman," Nicolai said.

Feldman, who was born in Boston and came to Hawaii in 1953, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Feldman is survived by partner and companion Darnette Narvaez; children Lisa, Jerrold, Richard and Joshua Feldman; hanai daughter Tori Wickland; and grandchildren Jake, Maya, Noah, Tyler, Morgan and Caroline.

A gathering of remembrance for family, friends and colleagues will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Pacific Club Courtyard, 1451 Queen Emma St. in Honolulu. The family requests no floral gifts. Donations in Feldman's memory may be made to the Honolulu Academy of Arts or the American Cancer Society.



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