Robert G. Friedman, 1923-2013: National Machinery leader a tunesmith

3/21/2013
BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Friedman
Friedman

Robert G. Friedman, who became president and chief executive of a Tiffin-based, globally known manufacturer, as his father had been, died Monday in his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home. He was 90.

He had prostate cancer, son-in-law Robert Anspach said.

Mr. Friedman was affiliated for decades with National Machinery Co., one of Tiffin’s largest employers and a leading maker of forging and forming machinery. His father, John H. Friedman, was an executive, yet the younger Mr. Friedman’s first assignments weren’t office jobs.

“He started out in the plant. That’s the way everybody started at National,” Mr. Anspach said.

He had a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from what is now Case Western Reserve University. He received a patent for a machine that made seamless aluminum cans and another related to blades for jet engines. As president and CEO, he eschewed national publicity even as the firm made productivity gains and was a forerunner in employee profit sharing.

“He had such a huge empathy for the working man,” his daughter Jane Anspach said. “He had this charisma. He was a natural leader. He had that charm, and he went to work with his sleeves rolled up. He was one of the guys, basically. He was a genius with math and machines and the physics of machinery.”

He left National Machinery in 1970 and moved to Fort Lauderdale. He was a former chairman of Direct Supply Inc. He and his wife were known for their philanthropy, including to the Betty Jane Rehabilitation Center in Tiffin, founded by his father and named for his late sister, and Tiffin Calvert High School.

He was born Feb. 6, 1923, in Tiffin to Genevieve “Jane” and John Friedman and was a graduate of Columbian High School. As a Navy officer aboard the USS Texas during World War II, he took part in the Battle of Okinawa. He attended Harvard Business School.

He played piano and wrote songs that were recorded by such jazz notables as Joe Williams, Carmen McRae, and Benny Carter. A song by Mr. Friedman was included in “Q: The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones,” a CD boxed set.

Surviving are his wife, Eugenie Steuer Friedman, whom he married May 1, 1948; son, Robert Taft Friedman; daughters, Elizabeth O’Connor, Jennifer Hillis, Mary Baske, and Jane Anspach; 15 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Vistation will be 4-6 p.m. Sunday at Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday in St. Anthony Church, Fort Lauderdale.

The family suggests tributes to the American Cancer Society or the Gold Coast Jazz Society, Fort Lauderdale.