Elliott "Al" Gottlieb, 86, a furniture store owner for 33 years who took classes to complete his high-school equivalency diploma in his 70s, died Wednesday in Toledo Hospital.
The Sylvania resident was in declining health the last two years with kidney, lung, and heart problems, said Arnold Gottlieb, his son.
The origin of Mr. Gottlieb's nickname is unknown, his son said, but it became part of his store's identity, which was called Al Gottlieb's Buy-Rite Furniture Co. for most of its existence.
He started the business about 1950, selling used furniture from a small storefront at Cherry and Erie streets.
He needed more space and, in 1959, moved to Broadway and Western Avenue, where his specialty became new furniture. By 1963, the business occupied much of the block as he expanded into storefronts from 1116 to 1128 Broadway.
Mr. Gottlieb drew customers from across the Toledo area.
"He was a wonderful promoter," his son said. "He knew how to do an ad, how to draw attention."
For instance, an ad in The Blade for the store's "30th Annual St. Patrick's Luck O' The Irish Sale" in 1980 proclaimed that "Al 'Murphy' Gottlieb lowers the boom on high prices" and urged readers to "grab your hat, your shillelagh, the wife, and whole clan, and hurry on over!"
Stationed above sale prices for grandfather clocks and dinette sets, dishwashers and dryers was a harp-strumming leprechaun, with a photo of Mr. Gottlieb's face superimposed on the drawing.
"He knew people," his son said. "Sales was something he always knew. He impressed upon us that hard work was important. There's no easy way out. You have to give it your all."
He retired in 1983 and closed the store. He said that he planned to golf and fish, and that's what he did.
Still, he told his son through the years, he felt bad for having dropped out of school after the 11th grade.
"He did quite well in a business sense," his son said. "He always said, 'Had I gone to school, I really could have been somebody,' and it was always something in the back of his head."
In his 70s, Mr. Gottlieb took General Educational Development courses and received his GED credential. His grandson Eli, then in junior high, tutored him in math.
"He persevered," his son said. "When he decided he was going to do something, he did it."
Commencement for his class was at the University of Toledo, and he was the speaker.
"It was probably one of his proudest days," his son said. "He always revered education, something he didn't have, and he provided education for all his kids and grandkids.
"It's the perfect American success story."
Mr. Gottlieb was born in Poland. His father emigrated to North America, and he was 10 when his father sent for his mother and him. The family lived in Windsor, Ont., and in Detroit.
While in his teens in Windsor, Mr. Gottlieb found myriad ways to earn money.
"He was in the produce business. He cut Christmas trees, which was an unusual business for a young Jewish boy," his son said. "You sell and buy scrap. You do what you got to do."
He sold furniture and drove a furniture truck in Canada, and worked for furniture stores in Toledo, where he met his first wife and settled down.
Mr. Gottlieb took up golf in middle age and played regularly.
Often three generations occupied two charter boats when he organized the annual family Lake Erie walleye outing.
"He didn't care about having a fancy house," his son said. "He just wanted to make sure his kids and grandkids had a secure future. He was content to be with his wife and have a quiet life."
He was formerly married to Rose Gottlieb.
Surviving are his wife, Doris, whom he married Sept. 1, 1995; son, Arnold Gottlieb; daughters, Barbara McClatchie and Ellen Georgeoff; brother, Robert Gottlieb, and six grandchildren.
Services will be at 1 p.m. today in the Robert H. Wick/Wisniewski Funeral Home.
The family suggests tributes to Congregation Etz Chayim, of which he was a longtime member.