Karen N. Chizeck, 59, a Republican fund-raising executive and political activist who nevertheless thrived in heavily Democratic Philadelphia, died Aug. 31, of early-onset Alzheimer's disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the Abramson Center for Jewish Life in North Wales, Montgomery County, where she was in hospice care.
Born in Pittsburgh and raised in Mount Lebanon, Pa., Ms. Chizeck graduated from American University in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in international relations. She began her dual career in political and nonprofit fund-raising, working for U.S. Sen. John Heinz, WHYY-TV 12, and Fox Chase Cancer Center before unsuccessfully running for the state House of Representatives in the 182nd district in 1988.
As head of her own political consulting firm, Ms. Chizeck represented numerous political causes and national, state, and local candidates, including U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, state Sens. Joe Rocks and Bruce Marks, Philadelphia mayoral candidate Sam Katz, and Republicans for Choice.
Ms. Chizeck, who lived in Philadelphia's Pennsport section with her husband, Jeffrey Arkin, also served as a Philadelphia Republican ward leader and raised funds for numerous nonprofits, including the Pennsylvania Ballet, Temple Health Systems, and Friends of Old Pine Street.
"Karen was a great reader of other people and knew how to interpret their wants and needs. That made her insights extremely valuable to those she advised in politics and business," said Sam Katz, a three-time candidate for Philadelphia mayor, who used Ms. Chizeck's services over the years. "She was devoted to her beliefs, unwavering in her principles, and just plain smart. Karen had a sharp sense of humor that helped everyone through stressful situations."
Marks, a lawyer who grew up near Ms. Chizeck and had been a close friend since they met in 1967, remembered her as "extremely energetic, brutally honest and [she] had a tremendously quirky sense of humor, which was a necessity, being a Republican political activist in Philadelphia. She was unique and had a different angle on things that was usually right."
Ms. Chizeck, a lover of travel who possessed a life-of-the-party personality, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2015 and with cancer this past March after she fell down the stairs at her home and broke several bones, said Arkin. The couple met on a blind date and married in 2003. Their marriage was Ms. Chizeck's second and Arkin's third.
The day they met, he recalled, it was nearly 100 degrees and he was sweating profusely from the heat — and his nerves — as he knocked on her front door. "When I walked in and looked at her face I said, 'She's the one.' I fell in love right there," he said through tears. "I miss her smile. I miss her curly hair."
Arkin, who is retired from the Air Force, said he was pleasantly surprised that his future wife took him on outings to meet her relatives and friends to see what they thought of him before she agreed to marry him.
"I think she liked the fact that … I was a plain guy. I wasn't in her [professional] world," he said. "I fell in love with her because of how kind she was, her pretty smile, how she touched a lot of people. I found my true love," said Arkin, 61, who has an adult daughter from his first marriage and an adult son and daughter from his second marriage.
A memorial service will be held on Thursday, Sept. 6, with friends gathering at 9 a.m. and services starting at 9:55 a.m. sharp at Washington Crossing National Cemetery, 830 Highland Road, Newtown, Pa.
In addition to her husband and three stepchildren, Ms. Chizeck is survived by a sister, a brother, an uncle and several aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins, and close friends.
Donations may be made to the Alzheimer's Association, Delaware Valley Chapter, 399 Market St., Suite 102, Phila., Pa. 19106.