Paul Soros, Shipping Titan, Prominent Philanthropist, Dies at 87
Paul Soros, a Hungarian emigre who became a titan of international shipping and noted philanthropist while keeping a lower profile than that of his younger brother, billionaire financier George Soros, died June 15 at his home in New York City. He was 87.
The older Soros had Parkinson’s disease, cancer, kidney failure and diabetes, said his wife, Daisy Soros.
Born to a Jewish family in Budapest, Soros survived Nazi persecution and the deprivations after World War II to become one of the most influential businessmen in the shipping industry.
By his telling, he arrived in the United States in 1948 with $17 and founded his engineering firm — Soros Associates — in 1956 from his home in Connecticut. Later based in New York, the firm specialized in industrial port development and grew to have operations in a reported 91 countries. By age 65, Soros estimated, he had achieved annual taxable income of more than $100 million.
He gave lavishly to cultural organizations and, most notably, endowed the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans to underwrite graduate education for immigrants and their children.
Unlike his brother — who became one of the wealthiest people in the world and who sought and achieved global influence with his progressive philanthropic initiatives — he guarded his privacy so carefully that The New York Times once described him as “the invisible Soros.” The most complete account of his life is an unpublished memoir, called American (Con)quest.
He was born Paul Schwartz on June 5, 1926. Both parents were socially well connected. His father, a lawyer and military officer, had escaped a Siberian prison camp during World War I.
As a child, Soros said, he felt that George received more attention than he did. “I found him a very obnoxious kid,” he told The Times in 1988 in a rare interview. “But he improved with age.”
Both children enjoyed a privileged upbringing, and Paul became a talented skier.
For safety, the family changed its surname to Soros as anti-Semitism intensified during the Nazi rise to power. Soros wrote that he survived World War II with help from false identification papers and that numerous members of his extended family perished in the Holocaust.
When the Germans were defeated and Hungary fell under Russian occupation, Soros was rounded up and sent on a march to what he later understood would have been a prison camp. In his memoir, he recalled making a break from the lines.
“I knew that, after the bridge, there were no more villages, just open country. With snow on the ground, there was no way to get away or hide,” he wrote. “I saw a burned out farmhouse about 100 yards from the road, and I simply made a run for it.”
He hid in the farmhouse until the danger had passed and then returned on foot, safely, to Budapest.
He began his engineering studies there while training with the national ski team for the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was unable to compete because of an injury, but his membership on the team gave him the cover to leave the country for Austria, where he stayed before making his way to America, according to the memoir.
He settled in New York, where he met his future wife, Daisy Schlenger, also from Hungary, at a house for international students. He and his wife created the academic scholarship out of their desire to assist students facing some of the same difficulties they confronted in their earlier years in the United States.
Soros received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn in 1950. He spent much of his early career in sales with Hewitt Robins, the industrial firm, before starting his business.
Soros held three patents for innovations involving the transfer of coal and other materials on and off ships, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. As he once explained his vision for shipping, “the alternative to bringing the ship into port is to take the port out to the ship.”
Also contributing to his wealth were his investments, which he grew in collaboration with his brother.
Besides his brother, survivors include his wife of 62 years, of New York City; two sons, Peter Soros of London and Jeffrey Soros of Los Angeles; and five grandchildren. Two children, Steven Soros and Linda Soros, died in early childhood.
In his memoir, Soros reflected on the wartime peril and postwar obstacles he overcame in order to build his life in America.
“To this day,” he wrote, “I think that the most serious challenges were behind me at age 22.”