Dick Rosenberg, seen here in his office in 2019, died on March 3 at the age of 92. (Photo/Norm Levin)
Dick Rosenberg, seen here in his office in 2019, died on March 3 at the age of 92. (Photo/Norm Levin)

Dick Rosenberg, 92, a philanthropist who banked on the Jewish community

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Updated March 8 to add comments from his son.

Back when he served as president and longtime board member of the Jewish Home (now the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living), Dick Rosenberg always gave generously. He and his wife, Barbara, even have a building on the campus named for them.

But it wasn’t just the big things that mattered to him. Rosenberg quietly funded a side program to make sure all residents at the Home had a gourmet dinner served on their birthdays.

In matters big and small, throughout his storied banking career, in his wide-ranging philanthropy and in his passion for the Jewish community, Richard Rosenberg paid attention to details, drove change and made a huge difference. He passed away on March 3 in his adopted hometown of San Francisco. He was 92. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake St.

“He could be very tough,” remembered Brian Lurie, a former CEO of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, which Rosenberg served in various capacities, including as board president. “But there was a sunny side to Dick. With thoroughness came a smile, kindness and appreciation.”

Said his son, Peter Rosenberg, “He always said no matter what success you have in life, you can never enjoy it unless you’re using that success to help others.”

Over a decades-long career, Rosenberg rose to the top of the banking world, serving as vice chairman of Wells Fargo Bank and chairman/CEO of Bank of America. His work allowed him to sit on the boards of major corporations and nonprofits, including Northrop Grumman, Airborne Express, Caltech, the San Francisco Symphony, the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, the United Way of the Bay Area and UCSF Medical Center.

For Rosenberg, aiding the Jewish community was a priority. That’s why he took on lay leadership roles with the Federation, Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco and the Jewish Home.

(From left) Greta Saunders, Dianne Feinstein, Frances Green, Dick Rosenberg, Tad Taube and Richard Goldman at the 1981 groundbreaking for a new Jewish Home building. (Photo/J. Archive)
(From left) Greta Saunders, Dianne Feinstein, Frances Green, Dick Rosenberg, Tad Taube and Richard Goldman at the 1981 groundbreaking for a new Jewish Home building. (Photo/J. Archive)

“One reason the Jewish Home was important to Dick and Barbara was that it honored its commitment to be available to older adult Jews and their families when they needed it,” said its former CEO, Daniel Ruth. “For Jews in the community to be able to access the necessary health and social services was core to Dick.”

As chair of the Federation’s Endowment Fund, Rosenberg fulfilled a promise he made in 2002 at the beginning of his tenure to his predecessor, Bernard Osher, to get the fund to $1 billion in assets. By the time he stepped down in 2008, the fund had grown to more than $3 billion.

Similarly, by the time he retired from Bank of America in 1996, the landmark bank in downtown San Francisco had doubled in size to $225 billion in assets. In a 2019 J. profile, Rosenberg recalled sometimes being amazed by his success: “I’d look up at the Bank of America building and say, ‘God, do I run this?’”

It was an understandable sentiment, given Rosenberg’s humble beginnings.

He grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts, during the height of the Depression. His mother was an immigrant from Russia, his father a World War I vet. Despite hard times, Rosenberg graduated from Suffolk University with a journalism degree, then joined the Navy and attended Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island.

Dick Rosenberg in his Navy days
Dick Rosenberg in his Navy days

In the 1950s he served in the Korean War and also in Vietnam rescuing refugees and French troops. After 20 years in the Navy and Naval Reserves, he attained the rank of commander, and in later years served as a trustee of the U.S. Naval War College.

In 1956 Rosenberg married fellow Fall River native Barbara Cohen, beginning a 66-year adventure in love, partnership and family. In 1960, the couple moved to San Francisco, and later Marin County, where they brought up their sons, Michael and Peter.

“They were incredibly bonded to each other,” said Peter Rosenberg. “My dad often credited his success with having my mom at his side. It was a relationship that was a perfect fit.”

Growing up in that household was an education for him and his brother, both in the ways of business and the Jewish community.

“Judaism was always extremely important to my dad,” he added. “He wasn’t particularly religious, but he knew what his identity was, what his faith was, and he never forgot it.”  

Rosenberg got his start in banking at Crocker-Anglo Bank before starting his 22-year tenure at Wells Fargo. It was he who thought of putting the bank’s now-iconic stagecoach in a TV ad and make it part of the institutional logo. In 1987 he joined Bank of America, and three years later he was named chairman and CEO.

In business, Rosenberg had a reputation for being tough as nails, but many experienced firsthand the kinder nature of the man. “When I first came to San Francisco, both Dick and Barbara were so helpful in introducing me to the Jewish and non-Jewish aspects of the community,” recalls Ruth, a Toronto native. “I really connected with Dick because he helped me grow as a CEO. He was always available.”

As philanthropists, the couple gave generously to the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish High School of the Bay, Jewish Community Relations Council, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Federation and other Jewish nonprofits. At the S.F. Campus for Jewish Living, the Barbara and Richard Rosenberg Family Center opened in 2006. As chair of the UCSF Foundation, Rosenberg oversaw a $900 million campaign to build UCSF’s hospital in Mission Bay.

If you believe in philanthropy, you always want to give more.

During his time with the Federation, Rosenberg impressed the leadership with his foresight.

“He had a very keen mind,” said Lurie. “I remember when we were discussing what to do about Sonoma before it became part of our Federation [service area]. Using his background in retail banking, he said ‘You have to open an office in Sonoma,’ contrary to everyone else. His opinion won out, and we ended up hiring a person in Sonoma. He encouraged the whole decentralization of the Federation.”

The couple’s generosity did not go unnoticed. In 2003, Rosenberg received the Federation’s Robert Sinton Award for Distinguished Leadership, while his wife was honored with the Judith Chapman Memorial Women’s Leadership Award in 2007.

Giving back was second nature. “Almost from the day we had discretionary income, you could see the need,” Rosenberg told J. in 2019. “You can still see the need, everywhere. Your only regret is that you don’t have enough money to support everything, or to the level that you’d like to. If you believe in philanthropy, you always want to give more.”

Though he technically retired in 1996, Rosenberg continued to go into his Bank of America office almost every weekday, even into his 90s. In that 2019 J. profile, he described the pleasure of indulging his “enormous” passion for reading (“I’m a history buff”) and pursuing a hobby he and Barbara shared of collecting Eskimo artwork. His board commitments and charity work also kept him busy, as did the joys of playing grandpa to his five grandsons.

Even in his last days, from his bed at the Frank Residences at the S.F. Campus for Jewish Living, which he had supported for so long and where he died, he still attended board meetings via Zoom.

“The world he left behind is a better place, and the world has a big loss without him,” said his son. “He helped so many people in so many different ways. People’s lives are better from knowing him. Whether business or charity or with friends, he was a guy who was always there for you.”

Richard Rosenberg is survived by wife Barbara Rosenberg, sons Michael Rosenberg of Los Angeles and Peter Rosenberg of Marin, and five grandsons. Donations may be made to the Naval War College Foundation or the UCSF Foundation–Richard Rosenberg Fund, P.O. Box 0248, UCSF, San Francisco, CA 94143.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.