On the 19th of January 2021, the SA Jewish community lost one of its finest men, when the legendary Eric Samson passed away at the age of 82. Together with the SA expat community, we join his family in mourning this tremendous loss. The Telfed Board of Governors, Executive Council and Directorate are deeply saddened by his passing and extend heartfelt condolences to his beloved and devoted wife, Sheila, children Dorothy, Franki, Jeffrey and families.
Many will remember Eric as a Businessman par excellence, the steel magnate and Macsteel merchant. His accomplishments in this field were certainly impressive, expanding Macsteel into an international trading business operating in over 35 countries across three continents.
Others will recall his magnanimity. Together with his devoted wife, Sheila, a powerful force alongside Eric and an insightful and equally dedicated partner, the Samsons were involved in manifold charitable endeavours. Thanks to their kindness, children and youth enjoy playgrounds and tennis centres; the elderly have the Beth Protea Retirement Home; those with special needs – Beit Issie Shapiro; the ill and infirm – Barzilai Medical Center, the Samson Surgical Hospital in Ashkelon and Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital; the spiritual – The Sheila Samson Centre for Enlightenment; students – the Samson Telfed SASI Program and countless other beneficiaries, including Cleveland Clinic, Keren Hayesod, Ben Gurion University, the UJC, IUA and of course, the Prime Minister’s Alternative Energy Research Award – just to mention a few! His unbridled generosity was testament to Eric’s dedication to help others and make the world a better, kinder, more fulfilling place. Indeed, in the words of Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, “he was a man of unsurpassed generosity, one of the greatest philanthropists ever produced by the SA Jewish community”.
Such was the extent of their involvement in giving back to the communities where they lived, that Eric and Sheila were conferred multiple awards in recognition of their contributions. These included the Telfed Lifetime Achievement Award, Nadiv Award, Tiferet Lion of Judah Award, Keren Hayesod Yakir Award, National Business Lifetime Achievement Award, Magen David Adom and Bnei Brith honours, as well as honourary doctorates from Israeli and South African Universities, inter alia. The title of Honorary Life World Campaign Chairman of Keren Hayesod was also bestowed upon Eric, in recognition of his service to the Jewish People. In addition, he served on the board of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, as well as numerous Jewish communal boards. His dedication to Israel was also recognized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – “Eric and Sheila have devoted so much of their lives for the future of the Jewish people and State. They do that in a spirit of generosity and humility that is amazing. They seek nothing for themselves, but for others, through tremendous contributions across the board.” Led by its patriarch, the Samson Family’s compassionate support of many virtuous projects has indeed affected and touched the lives of thousands of people over the years.
However, perhaps the most striking aspect for which we will remember Eric, was his character and soft-spoken, compassionate and humble manner. Whilst he could mix with the crème da la crème in society, and easily command great importance and attention, Eric avoided recognition and applause for his achievements and contributions. With enthusiasm, compassion and sincerity, he constantly and quietly reached out to help and uplift others, touching every aspect of Jewish communal life and together with partner Sheila, earning great honour and respect for the Samsons, as one of the most generous families in the world. “Eric was a man who was sensitive enough to be moved by the problems of society and strong enough to confront them head on. He was wise enough to recognize opportunities that would effect meaningful social change and humble enough to connect with anyone. One only needed to spend a few minutes with him in order to be warmed by his heart” (Past Telfed Chairman, Maish Isaacson, pictured at left with Eric, Sheila and Sid Shapiro).
Former Telfed Director, Sid Shapiro also recalls: “One particular occasion made such a significant and profound impression on me, which, to this day, remains indelibly imprinted on my mind. I formally met Eric when he came up to me after I presented Telfed’s undertakings to a few communal leaders. He said he was impressed with what he had heard as regards what Telfed is doing for the South Africans living in Israel. He asked me for my telephone number and the very next day he called me and said he and Sheila would like to have a chat with me. Fortuitously, that afternoon we had a chance to meet. Unfortunately, Sheila could not be present, but Eric took me on to the balcony and in his quiet, calm and unassuming way, said he would like to contribute funds to Telfed’s work over a substantially long period. His initiative blew me away and I struggled to contain my delight! What brought tears to my eyes that afternoon was not necessarily the magnanimous gift pledged but the sincerity, warmth and the true, pure ‘chesed’ of Eric’s genuine ‘gemilut chassidim’ – something which I had never experienced before nor thereafter”.
With Sheila at his side over the years, the authentic munificence was even more palpable. Sheila has been a true and powerful partner behind the ventures undertaken by the Family Foundation and what is so beautiful to observe today, is that their passion for doing good has been inculcated in their children who are intricately involved and now manage the Family Foundation’s philanthropy. Family is indeed the core of the Samson empire, the proverbial strength derived from its Biblical namesake. It brings great credit to Eric z”l and Sheila, to see how Dorothy & Len, Franki & Steven and Jeffrey & Elana share the same commitment.
In closing, Eric paved the way with his heart and hard work, bringing honour and distinction to all Southern Africans. Our global community is blessed to have had a role model of such character and kindness. Eric, you were cherished as a very dear friend of Telfed, and were, in your gentle way – a distinguished and ultimate example of South African Jewry’s finest. You will be sorely missed. On behalf of the Telfed family and SASI Committee, we express our heartfelt sympathy to Sheila and the family, for their very personal and poignant loss. יהיה זכרו ברוך