Max Siegel, 102, a former executive of Pep Boys -- Manny, Moe & Jack -- who seemed to have found the fountain of youth in generosity, courteousness, and a tireless work ethic, died of kidney failure Wednesday at Vitas Hospice at Nazareth Hospital. He lived in Northeast Philadelphia.
The eldest of six children, Mr. Siegel was born in 1905 at Sixth Street and Fairmount Avenue, in an apartment above an Acme Market back when Acmes were corner stores. He proudly finished the eighth grade, went to work, and didn't stop for 62 years.
"And the only reason I stopped working then was because my wife was sick and I took care of her," Mr. Siegel said in a 2005 Inquirer story. He had married Dora Spivak in 1928, and they raised three sons. When she suffered a stroke, he cared for her for 11 years until she died in 1990.
At 86, Mr. Siegel thought about going back to work, but he was too busy writing his life story, cooking, entertaining friends, and ballroom dancing.
Then at 89, he added another responsibility: He took in his housekeeper and her two young children, recent arrivals from Sierra Leone. Mr. Siegel became a caretaker for the youngsters while their mother worked the night shift as a nurse's aide. He supported the children, took them to sporting events, and paid for college for the oldest.
"They added 20 years to my life," Mr. Siegel said of the children, who visited him often. "Life is worthless unless you have mental, physical and emotional experiences."
Twelve years ago, he met Lillian Brodsky, and they shared a two-bedroom apartment in the Northeast.
Mr. Siegel, who had his driver's license renewed when he was 102, was in nearly perfect health until a few months ago. He drove a Ford Focus until December, when he and Brodsky moved into Paul's Run Retirement Community.
When Mr. Siegel spoke of work and retirement in the 2005 article, it was with the voice of experience. To him, a job was a gift, work gave self-respect, savings were valued, and debt was an embarrassment.
"The important thing is, if you're given a responsibility, attack it as if it is yours for the rest of your life," said Mr. Siegel, who was an executive with Pep Boys when he left the company at 75.
In his youth, he worked in a drugstore, making deliveries and fetching neighbors when they received phone calls there.
Mr. Siegel also worked in a haberdashery, sold silverware door to door, and worked in an embroidery mill in North Philadelphia.
In 1928, Mr. Siegel was hired to do window displays for Pep Boys when it was headquartered at Broad and Vine Streets. Moe himself - Maurice L. Strauss - hired Mr. Siegel.
For $15 a week, he worked seven days, from 8:30 a.m. until the work was done.
"We saw very little of our father because he worked so hard," said son Paul. "It was a day's trip to the Pep Boys store in Bethlehem and other outlying towns. He didn't count work hours."
Mr. Siegel rose through the ranks at Pep Boys. When World War II broke out, he was too old for the draft, so Pep Boys paid his salary and Mr. Siegel sold bonds for the war effort. He retired as a vice president and was a consultant for two more years.
Mr. Siegel said, "We all possess abilities far beyond our dreams, and I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to develop these gifts.
"This world," he said, "was not built for pessimists."
"My father lived his life with equanimity," his son said. "Minor things did not disturb him, and he took the major things in stride. A person can't live that long without a positive attitude."
In addition to his son Paul and Brodsky, Mr. Siegel is survived by sons Hano and Shawn; 10 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. today at Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael-Sacks, 6410 N. Broad St. Burial will be in Har Jehuda Cemetery, Upper Darby.