Philanthropist, activist, marrow recipient Alan Snyder, 61

Alan Snyder spent the last four years of his life optimistically hoping. Hoping that someone with his rare genetic makeup would be found to donate blood marrow. Then, hoping that his body would accept the new stem cells.

Snyder’s battle with idiopathic myelofibrosis, a terminal genetic blood disorder related to leukemia, was chronicled in j. last year. The San Francisco Jewish community activist and philanthropist died on Tuesday, Sept. 28, at age 61.

Born in Baltimore, he received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree in physical organic chemistry at Yale University, and an MBA in finance from U.C. Berkeley.

Spending his entire career in finance, Snyder in 1985 founded the S.F.-based Snyder Capital Management, a money management firm that advises university endowments, museums, religious foundations, pension funds and individuals.The boutique investment firm began with investments of $3 million and is now worth $2.3 billion.

In 1980, Snyder married Suzie Katz. Both have served on the boards of numerous organizations, including the American Conservatory Theatre and the University of California Foundation.

But most of Snyder’s charitable work was in the Jewish community. Outside of the Bay Area, he was involved with the Jerusalem Foundation, supporting summer camps for both Jewish and Arab children.

In the Bay Area, he was active with the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services for more than 25 years, serving on its board and as its treasurer for several terms.

Anita Friedman, executive director of JFCS, described Snyder as being a “big-picture thinker and very successful and knowledgeable about global issues, but never forgot the preciousness of an individual’s life.”

He was especially concerned about Soviet emigres, single mothers, battered women, and poor, elderly Jews.

When JFCS began bringing Shabbat dinners to San Francisco’s Tenderloin, both Snyder and his wife would go along, to serve food, said Friedman.

Additionally, Snyder used his expertise to help JFCS grow its endowment fund.

He also served as a board member and treasurer of Congregation Emanu-El. Rabbi Stephen Pearce said that because of Snyder’s seed money, Emanu-El was able to start its food pantry.

In addition, he was on the board of directors of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, where Executive Director Nate Levine recalled Snyder for his “clarity of thought, his dedication to community, his gentle and quiet, yet effective leadership style, and his enormous generosity.”

Snyder was also a big supporter of the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal, specifically, its Climate of Trust program. Snyder and his wife were honored by the BACJRR in 2003.

Four years ago, Snyder received the diagnosis that he called “devastating.”

In 2003, he told j. about what he called “the gift of cancer.”

“Some people curl up into a shell, but if you have a positive outlook, you focus on living each day, and you have a much better chance of making it through,” he said. “I firmly believe I’ll make it.”

Once diagnosed, Snyder got involved with the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation and also served on the board of the Marrow Foundation. He was not only concerned with himself, but turned his focus toward helping others in the same predicament. At his urging, JFCS began holding bone marrow drives throughout Northern California.

The Snyders were given JFCS’ FAMMY award in 2003, for their outstanding service to the Jewish community.

Through the Gift of Life, a donor was found who matched Snyder, and he was given two bone marrow transplants. This past May, Snyder met his donor, an Israeli named Sharona Rosenberg. They met — at his request, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange — and again that evening, at the Gift of Life’s “Partners for Life” dinner.

Rosenberg — who was considered the only possible donor for Snyder — had flown from Israel to New York to donate stem cells, and she was in the hospital on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks took place while she was being prepped for the procedure.

“It was extraordinary,” said Katz Snyder. “Anyone else would have stopped, but she insisted she go on.”

The transplant was successful — for five months. He had a second one in 2003.

The Snyders also funded the Gift of Life’s retrospective typing project, allowing samples taken years ago to be brought up to the latest standards of DNA-based tissue typing. Through this initiative, at least 15 transplants have taken place. One such woman approached the Snyders at the New York dinner, telling them they had saved her life.

Ultimately, the transplants gave Snyder three additional years. Before his first transplant, Snyder and his wife, a photographer, documented their journey, both in photographs and in words, distributing these updates to an e-mail list that grew to around 300 people.

“A lot of people wanted to know how he was doing, and the list grew and grew,” said Katz Snyder, who goes by Susan Katz professionally. “People said their lives were changed by it; they couldn’t wait to receive” the updates.

E-mail became vital for Snyder. “After a treatment, he wouldn’t feel well, but he could go online and read the e-mails and these kept his spirits up,” said Katz Snyder.

In addition to his wife, Snyder is survived by his mother, Naomi Snyder of Baltimore; sister Francine Snyder of Kauai, Hawaii; a nephew and a niece; and two goddaughters.

Services for Alan Snyder will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3, at Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake St., S.F.

Contributions can be sent to Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, 7700 Congress Ave., Suite 2201, Boca Raton, FL 33487, or through its Web site:

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."