Ira M. Saligman, 53, of Wayne, an aviator, philanthropist, and real estate investor, died Sunday, July 31, of injuries he had sustained six days earlier when his vintage aircraft caught fire as it landed in West Mifflin, Pa.

Mr. Saligman got out of the airplane at Allegheny County Airport, but died in the Mercy burn unit at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The cause of the fire in the World War II-era plane, as it pulled to a stop on the tarmac, was unknown. Mr. Saligman was en route to an air show in Oshkosh, Wis., where he intended to meet his pilot friends.

Reared in Gladwyne, Mr. Saligman attended the Haverford School, but graduated from Harriton High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from George Washington University and a master's degree in business administration from Emory University in Atlanta.

Mr. Saligman's passion was flying airplanes. After college, he enlisted in the Navy, which sent him to its officer training school. His dream came true when he was accepted at flight training school, and after three years, received his wings as a naval aviator.

"The passion of flying permeated his entire life," said friend Jay Leberman. "It was a metaphor for his life - to reach out and look at the sky, to soar above and not be limited by constraints."

When the Persian Gulf War broke out in 1990, he was assigned to the Viking S3 anti-submarine aircraft and flew off the aircraft carrier USS America for the duration of the conflict.

"He was a patriot and served very, very proudly," Leberman said.

After completing his tour of duty, he followed family tradition by entering the real estate business and mimicking his father's devotion to philanthropy in Philadelphia and on behalf of the State of Israel.

He worked for Cynwyd Investments, the family business, before joining the finance and acquisition groups at Preferred Real Estate, where he oversaw the underwriting, leasing, and financing of "difficult to finance" commercial projects.

After the sale of the family business, he began working informally with other family members to invest the proceeds. That effort led to the creation of Saligman Capital in Wayne.

"He was always looking for a new way of doing things. He was very motivated," said sister Laury Saligman.

In the nonprofit world, he served as the chief financial officer for the Robert Saligman Charitable Foundation. The Bala Cynwyd foundation supports Jewish agencies, temples, and education, and provides funding for the arts, health, and human services.

He served as a board member and chairman of the Investment Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Mr. Saligman also served on the board of Federation Housing, a 1,200-unit independent living facility for low-income seniors in Philadelphia.

As word of Mr. Saligman's death spread, the National Museum of American Jewish History purchased an ad in the Inquirer describing him as a longtime trustee and "among the museum's earliest and most steadfast supporters."

"He championed a new initiative to collect and preserve family stories for generations to come," said the ad, signed by Philip Darivoff, board chair, and Ivy Barsky, the museum's CEO.

He was a founding member of the Jewish Federation of Real Estate Professionals. He also was active in Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, and Atidim, an enrichment program for gifted students in Israel.

"With his quick wit, sense of humor, and extraordinary generosity, Ira touched many lives in Philadelphia and beyond. He will be dearly missed," his family said.

Besides his sister, Mr. Saligman is survived by his wife, Arden Williams Saligman; his mother, Alice; sons Van and Gill; daughter Lila; another sister, Carolyn; and a brother, Peter.

Funeral services were Friday, Aug. 5.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 S. Independence Mall E., Philadelphia 19106.

bcook@phillynews.com

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