Arnold Rifkin, former marine and TV engineer, dies at 93

Arnold Rifkin (Courtesy of Alan Rifkin)

One memory of his father, Arnold Charles Rifkin, that stands out to Alan Rifkin involved a trip to the cinema on his 10th birthday.

The theater was offering tickets at half price for anyone under 10, which Alan Rifkin asked to purchase. But his father told him that, at 10 years old, he should purchase the adult ticket.

“That message, that you are who you are and stand on your own two feet, and be honest about all that, was what he was made of. He was a man of enormous, honorable integrity,” said Alan Rifkin, a resident of Columbia and member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

A former marine and electronic engineer, Arnold Rifkin died on May 4 at 93.

Both Arnold Rifkin and his future wife, Sally Rifkin, were Baltimore children born into the Great Depression, she said. His mother and father were separated before he was born and later divorced, leaving Arnold Rifkin to grow up with his out-of-work single mother. They relied on his grandmother who sold noodles to provide for them, which Arnold Rifkin would deliver in a small wagon.

Arnold met Sally during high school on a date set up by a mutual friend, she said. They married on Sept. 4, 1949.

“We just knew we loved each other from the moment we met,” said Sally Rifkin, a resident of Pikesville. “And we went out with other people, because of our youth, but always came back together.”

After working for a time as an X-ray technician for Baltimore City, Arnold Rifkin served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, studying radar engineering. He received an award for sharpshooting
and rose to the rank of acting corporal, said Sally Rifkin.

After leaving the service, Arnold Rifkin studied radio engineering under the GI Bill, said Sally Rifkin. In January of 1957, he found work as an electronic engineer at a local television station that is now WJZ. There, he made sure that reporters could get on the air. He also helped cover the funeral of President John F. Kennedy, among many other stories.

Arnold Rifkin was credited with the innovation of mobile news units in the 1970s, in part through attaching a news camera physically to a van, said Sally Rifkin. While previously it was necessary to take raw footage back to a news station to develop it there into a story, this innovation allowed footage to be processed in the van on the way back, allowing for much faster reporting. For this innovation, he received an award from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

“He loved it,” said Sally Rifkin on how her husband felt about his work. “He loved it because it was innovative. He was a creative kind of a person and loved to do things that were new.”

During her husband’s career in television, Sally Rifkin remembered one occasion when a man had taken hostages at a hospital affiliated with the University of Maryland, threatening to kill a hostage on television. Arnold Rifkin volunteered for the role of pretending to set up the necessary equipment for the hostage taker. It was when Arnold Rifkin distracted the man by telling him he was on camera and handing him the microphone that the police came in to arrest him, later presenting Arnold Rifkin with an award for his courage.

After a workplace injury left Arnold Rifkin with significant hearing loss, he enrolled in culinary schools in both Baltimore and Paris to become a chef, Sally Rifkin said.

“We ran around Paris as if we were in our 20s [and] had a wonderful time,” Sally Rifkin said. “He was a master of the challah. They were each and every one a work of art.”

While not certain of the exact cause of death, Sally Rifkin noted that her husband had been dealing with dementia and had been stressed about a recent
hospital visit.

Alan Rifkin said his father was a resilient, extraordinary man who was both self-taught and self-made.

“Here’s someone who grew up without a father, a single child of an immigrant mother from Odessa, who, through his own resilience and his own strength of character, became a U.S. Marine, taught himself radar engineering and later went on the GI Bill [and] learned radio engineering, and then became a pioneer in the television industry,” Alan Rifkin said.

Arnold Rifkin is survived by his wife of 73 years Sally Rifkin (nee Conn); sons Alan, Scott and David; daughters-in-law Leslie, Fran and Connie; grandchildren Robert and Mariya, Bradley and Priscilla, Daniel and Lillian, Amy and Robert, Joshua, Adam, Brianna and Blake; and great-grandchildren Aaron, Benjamin and Ruth. He is also survived by his brother and sister-in-law Lenny and Beverly Rifkin.

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