Jack Luskin, known in the Mid-Atlantic region for lending his name and face to a chain of electronics and home appliance stores, died on Dec. 1 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 89.
Luskin, with his brother, Joe, founded his first Luskin’s store in Baltimore’s Pimlico neighborhood in 1948. The venture grew into a chain of stores that sold electronics as well as appliances. At its zenith, Luskin ran 60 stores in the Mid-Atlantic region before the chain went out of business in the mid-1990s.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, a longtime friend of the Luskin family, flew from his home in the Washington, D.C., suburbs to Florida to eulogize Luskin. Weinblatt grew up with Luskin’s children.
“My dad was friendly with Jack and [his wife of 68 years] Jean. And I was a year ahead of Jamie,” Weinblatt said, referring to the Luskins’ daughter, Jamie McCourt, a former Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner whom President Donald Trump recently appointed U.S. ambassador to France and Monaco. The Luskins also had two sons younger than Weinblatt, Kevin and Cary, who own The Big Screen Store.
Weinblatt called Luskin a “larger-than-life character and a very important part of the Baltimore business community.” Luskin “started using computers in his business before anybody really understood how they could be used in the business world,” he said. “It really was revolutionary.”
Weinblatt credits Luskin’s as the “predecessor of today’s big-box store.”
On Luskin’s television commercials, which saturated local airwaves in the 1980s and ’90s, Luskin called himself “the cheapest guy in town.” But in his private life, those closest to him say, Luskin was among the most generous, particularly when it came to friends, family and his beloved Jewish causes.
“One of the great things about Jack was that he was always willing to stand up for Jews and Israel. He was extremely proud of his Jewish identity,” Weinblatt said. “[This] made quite an impact on our community in so many ways and on so many levels.”
Luskin supported the Jewish National Fund as well as the Anti-Defamation League. In the ’80s, Jean and Jack, along with their close friends Melvin and Jeanne Berger, commissioned local artist Joseph Sheppard to create a memorial statue for the Holocaust Memorial Park at the corner of Lombard and Gay streets in downtown Baltimore.
“It was pretty much his idea,” Weinblatt said. “I remember him saying it was something important, that the city should have a memorial for the victims of the Holocaust.”
Luskin’s son, Cary, now 61 and living in Florida, said his father personally chose and commissioned Sheppard to create the statue for the memorial. Sheppard’s work, which depicts skeletal figures trapped in a torch-like flame, was “one of [Sheppard’s] first bronze works,” according to Cary. “It’s very powerful. His paintings were also very powerful.”
[pullquote]“[Israel] was a home for the Jews. It was deeply important to him.” — Cary Luskin[/pullquote]
Before the commission, Luskin had known Sheppard “for a long, long time,” Cary added. “My dad had a lot of his artwork and thought he was terrific.” The memorial was dedicated on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1988.
Marc Terrill, president and CEO of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, knew Luskin for 25 years and said: “I would describe him as a protector of Zion. Whether in Baltimore or in Israel, Jack cared deeply about the Jewish community.”
In his eulogy, Weinblatt recalled an encounter Luskin had with WCBM radio personality Gene Burns. Burns was “the most popular talk-show host in Baltimore at the time. Jack sponsored a trip for him to go to Israel. It was shortly after the Six Day War.” Burns “came back and was speaking, basically, very negatively about Israel.”
This did not sit well with Luskin, Weinblatt said.
“I still remember it. [Jack] left his house in Pikesville, walked into the station, walked into the studio as Gene was speaking on the air and said: ‘My family and company have nothing whatsoever to do with what you’re saying.’ He disassociated from Gene Burns. It was a very courageous and gutsy thing for him to do.”
Cary recalled the incident as well, although he was very young at the time.
“My dad has always been involved speaking up for Israel,” he said. He speculates that his father’s strong support for Israel was rooted deeply in the loss of his brother fighting Hitler’s forces in the bloody Battle of the Bulge, where American troops experienced an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 casualties over the course of five weeks.
His brother’s death “had a huge impact on him,” Cary said. As a result of the atrocities of World War II, Luskin “felt a strong connection to Israel. It was a safe place, a home for the Jews. It was a home where we wouldn’t be persecuted. It was deeply important to him.”
Cary will remember his father as “a truly selfless man. He could have had anything but didn’t want anything. He wore a $10 watch. He didn’t care about those things. He picked his friends based on, well, friendship. Economic status didn’t matter.”
Cary said his father bequeathed their extended family “memories, morals and ethics.” His father’s strong sense of community involvement led him to sponsor the Fourth of July fireworks from the Luskin’s store atop the hill at Cromwell Bridge Road for decades. “People came from miles around,” Cary said.
Having grown up in Pikesville in the “same house from 1961 on,” Cary, who now lives in Florida near his mother, still harbors affection for his hometown, instilled, in part, by his father. “Baltimore,” Cary said, “has a wonderful sense of community.”
And his father embodied that.
Erica Rimlinger is a local freelance writer.
I knew Jack well. He was a tough boss but very fair. I was his consumer affairs director. He always wanted satisfied customers. RIP Jack.