LAKE PLACID — Meyer Laskin, of Boulderwood Way in Lake Placid, died on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010, at a hospice near his primary home in Philadelphia, Pa. He was 84 and suffered respiratory failure as the result of pneumonia.
Laskin was the retired president of MacAndrews and Forbes in Camden, N.J. He and his wife had also established a small family timber firm, Laskin Forest Properties, in the Adirondack region.
A child of working-class immigrants, Laskin led MacAndrews and Forbes, a leading manufacturer of licorice extract, from 1978 to 1995. Under his leadership, the company generated record profits. He also developed a strong attachment to the Adirondacks, where he and his family enjoyed skiing and hiking, and where he and his wife built a second home and started their forestry business.
Laskin was born on March 4, 1926, in the Bronx, in New York City, the youngest of four children of Samuel Laskin, a carpenter, and his wife Rachel, both Jewish immigrants from Poland. An outstanding student and valedictorian at James Monroe High School, he took the unusual step of attending the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University, with the idea of finding a career in the outdoors, perhaps as a forest ranger. He supported himself in college, sometimes holding down three jobs at once, and graduated first in his class.
Laskin enlisted in the Navy and, during the year just after World War II, served as a seaman aboard the U.S.S. Mattapany, an oil tanker, in the Pacific. In 1948, he married Leona Cohen, a medical student whom he had met at Syracuse.
He worked briefly in a retail lumber yard in Westchester County, New York, then started what became a decades-long career at A. Cohen and Sons in New York City, a wholesale and retail firm dealing largely in jewelry. There, he rose through the ranks, heading the retail division and eventually joining the executive team as the vice president for finance. In that capacity he helped to engineer the purchase of other companies and a merger with Hatfield Industries. The new company, known as Cohen-Hatfield Industries, was a public firm, traded on the American Stock Exchange.
In the early 1950s, Meyer and Leona moved to Great Neck, Long Island, where they raised four sons while Leona worked as an anesthesiologist at Long Island Jewish Hospital. While pursuing a busy career that often included travel, Laskin coached his sons’ little league teams and, during vacations, imparted to them his love of skiing and hiking. The family spent as much time as possible in the Lake Placid area of the Adirondack Mountains, a region Laskin had discovered at the forestry school, which ran a summer program at Cranberry Lake.
After Cohen-Hatfield Industries was acquired by business leader Ronald O. Perelman, Laskin was asked to run MacAndrews and Forbes, another Perelman acquisition. He and his wife moved to Philadelphia in 1980, and Laskin embarked on a fascinating second career, immersing himself in the culture and business of licorice. Licorice root was shipped to the factory in Camden, where it was ground, then boiled to produce licorice extract. The extract is used in products ranging from pharmaceuticals to tobacco.
Laskin’s travels took him to Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, and China, as well as to France, where MacAndrews and Forbes purchased a factory near Marseilles. The work often involved protracted negotiations for licorice root, but it also produced close friendships with people from all over the world. Laskin retired in 1995.
Laskin and his wife had bought land and built a vacation home in Lake Placid, New York, and after his retirement they were able to spend every summer in the mountains. Their children and grandchildren came to see them frequently, learning to love the Adirondacks, and visiting friends found that a stay with the Laskins usually entailed a hike on sometimes muddy, buggy trails to a mountaintop view.
Laskin and his wife also bought several tracts of timber land near Lake Champlain and founded Laskin Forest Properties, applying the principles of sustained-yield forestry that he had learned at the College of Forestry.
Over the years, the couple became generous supporters of the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the United Jewish Appeal, the University of Pennsylvania hospital system, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the National Breast Cancer Coalition, and other groups.
In addition to his wife, Laskin is survived by his sons Robert (Susan), Daniel (Mary Jane), David (Kathleen), and Jonathan (Michael); seven grandchildren; several nephews and a niece; and his sister, Molly. He was predeceased by his brother, Irving, and another sister, Sylvia.
The family has made plans for a private gathering to celebrate Meyer Laskin’s life. The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Adirondack Land Trust, P.O. Box 65, Keene Valley, NY 12943; or to Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse, 1800 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19146.