Robert S. Seltzer, a longtime Jewish community leader who also led Cohen-Seltzer Inc. from 1969 until 2013, died on Oct. 25 at the age of 84.
Seltzer was born in Philadelphia on March 23, 1935, and attended George School in Newtown. He studied business at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania and served as a cryptographer for the U.S. Army in the Korean War. In 1953, he met his future wife, Ellen, at Tamiment, once a hugely popular resort in the Poconos. They were married soon after, and Ellen became his “muse,” in the words of their son, Daniel. Seltzer loved taking photographs, especially on the many vacations that he and Ellen took over the years — she recalled a photographic safari in Africa as an especially fruitful outing for him — but his most returned-to subject was his wife.
Seltzer joined his stepfather’s insurance agency, Alexander S. Cohen & Company, in 1956, and he would flourish in the industry over the next half-century. He received the highly sought-after Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter designation in 1962, and in 1969, became president of the company, changing the name to Cohen-Seltzer, Inc. Over the decades, he’d become a board member of the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, serve as president of Intersure (an international group of insurance brokers), co-found Professional Agents Reinsurance, Ltd., join Lloyd’s of London as one of the vaunted “names” and, perhaps his greatest pride, receive the Franklin Award from the Insurance Society of Philadelphia in recognition of “outstanding ethics in his chosen profession.”
On top of all that, he led Cohen-Seltzer until the company was sold in 2013.
“That was his only job, nobody else would hire him,” Ellen Seltzer joked.
Besides photography, he loved to golf, and wasn’t too bad, either. He loved jazz, and the Philadelphia Eagles; watching the Super Bowl victory in 2018 was a “highlight,” Ellen Seltzer said. Of all their travel destinations, Israel was their go-to favorite.
At various points, Seltzer served as president of B’nai Brith, in Abington, and spent many years fundraising and organizing on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, or the Federation of Allied Jewish Appeal, as it was once known. He was part of the inaugural men’s mission to Israel, and led a family mission in 1979. Al Gilens, a campaign director at the Jewish Federation at a time when Seltzer was actively involved, said that Seltzer was “very personable, very warm, easy to talk with.”
“What Dad taught us was that if you’re going do something, whatever it is that you’re going to choose, you do everything possible to be the best at it,” Daniel Seltzer said. His father, Seltzer said, led by example on that front.
Seltzer is survived by his wife, Ellen (Blaker); his children, Debora (Greg) Cosell and Daniel Seltzer; and grandchildren Emily (William) Stocker, Jess Cosell, Alexandra (Daniel) Messing and Alon Seltzer. Seltzer is also survived by his niece, Susanna Lachs Adler, board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
The funeral service was held on Oct. 30.
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