Mr. Bridge grew the family jewelry business and advocated for a vibrant downtown Seattle, while leading local philanthropic efforts.
Herb Bridge, who built a jewelry empire while advocating for downtown Seattle and other civic causes while earning the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, died April 2. He was 93.
When Mr. Bridge and his wife, Shirley, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998, they invited several hundred people to a “nonparty,” remembered son Jon Bridge. Everyone was sent a blank $100 check signed by the couple and encouraged to donate to the charity of their choosing.
“It exemplified everything that we felt was part of my Dad and Mother’s life,” Jon Bridge said.
Mr. Bridge leaves a legacy of military service, business accomplishment, civic leadership and philanthropy.
He was born March 14, 1925, at Virginia Mason, and into the jewelry business run by his father and mother, Ben Bridge and Sally Silverman Bridge.
Mr. Bridge was a product of Seattle Public Schools, attending McGilvra Elementary and Franklin High School. His mother went there, too, as did his granddaughter years later.
After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, a 17-year-old Mr. Bridge asked his father — himself a World War I Navy veteran — for permission to enlist. Mr. Bridge began his naval career as a seaman recruit but was selected for an officer-training program attached to the University of Washington, and by age 20 was commissioned as an ensign. He would spend more than four decades in the U.S. Navy and the Naval Reserve, serving with distinction in World War II and again when called back during the Korean War. In 1976 he was promoted in rank to rear admiral.
During World War II, Mr. Bridge received a letter from his father granting him a one-quarter stake in the family business. He returned to Seattle, finished his degree at the UW, and began working in the jewelry store on Fourth and Pike, along with his younger brother, Bob.
Similar in personalities, Mr. Bridge and his father sometimes did “a little bit of clashing,” Jon Bridge said. Mr. Bridge had taken a job in Denver and was preparing to move there when his mother intervened. She didn’t want to lose two of her three grandchildren to a distant city, so she prevailed upon her husband to pass the business on to the next generation. Ben Bridge obliged, handing over the reins to his sons in 1955.
Mr. Bridge and his brother oversaw tremendous expansion of the company, beginning in the mid-1960s, from two stores in downtown Seattle and Bremerton to 93 now around the West, about half of which are franchises of the Pandora jewelry brand.
Jon Bridge, who stepped down as co-CEO of the company in November but remains its general counsel, said his father’s business philosophy was centered on providing true value, treating employees and customers — whether dressed in rags or jewels — with respect, and leading by example.
“My Dad always told me I should be able to do everything in the store that he could or anyone else could … be it cleaning the toilet or emptying the garbage,” Jon Bridge said, adding, “Don’t tell somebody else what to do if you’re not willing to do it yourself.”
Ben Bridge was sold to Berkshire Hathaway in 2000 but continues to be run independently, now by a fifth generation of the family.
Mr. Bridge remained co-chairman of the company’s board, with an office at its headquarters near the Space Needle, where he kept up correspondence and his charity work. Jon Bridge said his father was in the office for about a half an hour last Tuesday.
While he built the business, Mr. Bridge found time for a range of civic and philanthropic endeavors, earning him the nickname, “Mr. Downtown.”
Mr. Bridge played an instrumental role in preserving the vibrancy of Seattle’s downtown at a crucial juncture. In the middle of the last century, retailers began heading to malls on the outskirts of town, threatening to leave the city core hollowed out.
In response, Mr. Bridge helped start what became the Downtown Seattle Association to promote and improve the central city and “opening the door for residential development in downtown,” current association CEO Jon Scholes said in a statement. He would hold leadership positions at the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Washington Athletic Club, Better Business Bureau and Rotary Club of Seattle, among others.
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He also co-chaired the 2000-01 United Way fundraising campaign with his son Jon, headlining a long list of philanthropic activities.
King County Executive Dow Constantine called Mr. Bridge “a towering civic leader” whose efforts “positioned our region for the remarkable prosperity we are experiencing today.”
Jon Bridge said his father felt a “great pride” as he surveyed modern Seattle, with its city core extending from the stadiums and Pioneer Square in the south through to the new development of the Denny Regrade and South Lake Union in the north.
Mr. Downtown also loved to get out of the city. He was a regular visitor to the Olympic Mountains throughout his life. He climbed Mount Rainier in his late 60s and loved to ride his motorcycle. He was involved in the Whidbey Camano Land Trust and a board member of Washington’s National Park Fund, which remembered him as “an amazing storyteller” with a “heart of gold.”
Back in the city, Mr. Bridge was in the vanguard of a new generation of downtown dwellers, taking a condo with his wife in the Royal Crest, one of the first downtown high-rise residential buildings, in 1974. They later moved to Continental Place on First and Blanchard, where Mr. Bridge died Monday afternoon surrounded by family.
Jon Bridge said the family’s values, passed to Mr. Bridge by his parents, are embodied in a Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam, which means “repair of the world.”
“At this time of year it really makes sense,” he said. “It fits both in Easter as well as in Passover, with the idea that you’re placed on Earth to do good and make the world better. … You’re not going to accomplish it all, but you’re going to do it piece by piece, and I think that’s what he felt in his life.”
Mr. Bridge’s wife, Shirley, died in 2008. He is survived by sons Jon (Bobbe) and Dan (Simcha Shtull), four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and partner Edie Hilliard.
A private burial is planned for Wednesday.
A community memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. on April 17 at Temple De Hirsch Sinai.
In lieu of flowers, Jon Bridge said, “Herb would encourage people to give to the charity of their choice.”