Dr. William H. Danforth, chancellor emeritus of Washington University, is by any reckoning our region’s First Citizen. It is not only proper but also sensible that he be called upon to discuss the life and character of a recently deceased friend, and fellow civic pillar, Frederick A. Hermann Jr. For Mr. Hermann he provided without hesitation this simple but profoundly sincere description.
“He was wonderful.”
And so it went across the past week. Anytime family members, friends or acquaintances spoke of Mr. Hermann, who died at home at 90 of infirmities of age on Wednesday, Jan. 14, they’d say, “He was wonderful, simply wonderful.”
This repeated encomium wasn’t one of those hollow, obligatory, generalized descriptions meant to get you off the hook. If you ever sat next to Frederick Albert Hermann Jr. at luncheon, or talked to him about matters related to his world of God and Country and Family, you simultaneously felt his genuine warmth and experienced his generosity. You’d know, therefore, that “wonderful” fits this man as comfortably and as wrinkle-free as a bespoke suit.
“My God, My Country, My Family” is the title of his memoir, published in 2011; his resume is an iteration of it. Because, in addition to the list of clubs and associations in which many prominent St. Louisans share memberships, there also appear the names of boards on which he sat, some of which he helped to found. Most all fit neatly in the category of “helping” institutions.
“Fred was a gentleman and a gentle man, very proud of his wonderful family, and with good reason,” said Dr. William Peck, Wolff Distinguished Professor in the School of Medicine and head of the Center for Health Policy at Washington University. “His strong intellect and intellectual curiosity yielded a wide range and depth of knowledge that he applied wisely, but was displayed with modesty. He was also a raconteur of the first order, and spoke eloquently of his World War II experiences.
“In addition to our personal friendship,” Peck continued, “I had the privilege of working with him during his service as a board member of the Barnard Free Skin and Cancer Hospital, now a component of Washington University’s Siteman Cancer Center. His advice and counsel were superior.
"Barnard's mission, to provide various forms of assistance for needy patients and a public information center, has been a calling for Fred. He also served most effectively on a committee to assist in organizing what ultimately became the Siteman Cancer Center.”
His family also tells of his service on the boards of such organizations as the Edgewood Children’s Center, the Family Resource Center, Care and Counseling of the Episcopal City Mission, the Washington University Medical Center, Mary Institute-Country Day School and the Mercantile Library Association. He was a founder of the Cancer Information Center and the VP Fair, now called Fair St. Louis.
He was a vigorous man, a snow and water skier, a rider of horses, a golfer and tennis player, a man with absorbing interests in subjects such as botany and theology, and on and on.
St. Louis lawyer Stuart Symington Jr., a friend of seven decades to Mr. Hermann, brought up something else -- his appreciation of beauty. Symington recalled the evening parties in Florida when friends were invited to the Hermanns’ house to come together and to enjoy the celestial pleasures of sunsets.
“It was an honor and a privilege to be with him on the pilgrimage of life,” Symington said. Symington too is a World War II veteran. “He was,” Symington said, “a hero in many ways.”
From 1943 to 1946, Mr. Hermann fought in France and Germany under Gen. George S. Patton. He was a corporal in the 14th Armored Division and was awarded the Bronze Star for “unusual versatility and tireless devotion to duty.”
After the war, in 1948, he re-established his family’s Hermann Oak Leather Co., originally founded in 1881 and served as its president and CEO. Also, he founded Halo Cup Company, a pioneer manufacturer of foam-polystyrene cups in 1968.
Danforth was his friend since their days at St. Louis Country Day School and at Princeton University, from which Mr. Hermann graduated in 1946. Danforth spoke of his friend’s joie de vivre and found his enthusiasm inspiring.
He also noted Mr. Hermann’s love of his large and talented family and of his devotion to his wife of 62 years, the late Sally Loughborough Keyes Hermann, who died in 2011. She was, as Danforth observed, “a marvelous person very much in love with him” -- as were all the members of his family, Danforth said.
Mr. Hermann is survived by his brother, the businessman and civic leader Robert R. Hermann Sr., and his five children: Lawrence Shepley Hermann (Robin), Frederick "Rick" A. Hermann III; Sally "Holly" Gulick (David); Evelyn "Lyn" Grace (Warren); Mary Lemkemeier (John), all of St. Louis; and 11 grandchildren.
Mr. Hermann was a member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Warson and Ladue roads, and his funeral will be conducted there at 2 p.m. on Saturday (Jan. 24). The family asks that contributions in his memory be made to the Siteman Cancer Center, St. Peter's Episcopal Church or a charity of one’s choosing.
William Peck said of him, “We have lost an outstanding person.”