Frederick Heldring, banker, WW2 Dutch fighter

Frederick Heldring
Frederick Heldring
Posted: October 14, 2013

By the time he arrived in Philadelphia in 1950, Frederick Heldring had survived a world war, served in a resistance movement, and led an Allied spy organization.

He was 26, and he was just getting started.

Mr. Heldring, who died at 89 on Saturday, Oct. 12, at home in Wayne, went on to become a veteran of the Philadelphia banking industry and chairman of the former Philadelphia National Bank. Later in life, he became a philanthropist with a passion for revitalizing inner-city communities.

He died after a short battle with liver cancer, his family said.

Mr. Heldring was a longtime PNB employee who served as its chairman from 1986 until retiring in 1989. He was there when the venerable bank name was absorbed by CoreStates, which was in turn absorbed by First Union, Wachovia, and Wells Fargo.

He started his career at PNB in 1950 - sorting checks part time while studying at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Heldring was born in Amsterdam, the youngest of six children. At 19, with the Netherlands under German occupation, he joined an underground organization that helped Jews hide with Dutch families. A year later, Mr. Heldring headed a spy organization that slipped reports of German troop movements to Allied forces.

In 1998, Mr. Heldring was interviewed by the USC Shoah Foundation's Institute of Visual History, dedicated to making audiovisual interviews with survivors of and witnesses to the Holocaust.

"He was an incredible example to us as children - how to be a citizen, how to stand up for what is right, how to have courage, how to speak out," daughter Claudia Goodrich said.

After arriving in America in 1950 - with three years in the Dutch marines and studies in economics under his belt - he graduated from the Wharton School and started a full-time job with PNB. Mr. Heldring's father was a banker with the largest bank in the Netherlands.

In 1974, Mr. Heldring was named PNB's president, and he quickly made a point of investing in low-income, inner-city neighborhoods. He cofounded the Greater Philadelphia Partnership and served as chairman of the Philadelphia Development Partnership, now Entrepreneur Works.

Outside work, Mr. Heldring served in a number of international organizations and local nonprofits.

On a business trip in Mexico in 1953, he met Colette Barr, a Chicago native on vacation to gather her thoughts about a recent marriage proposal.

"My mother was absolutely infatuated with this dashing foreigner, this Dutchman with his accent and his intelligence," Goodrich said. "My dad found this American girl from the Midwest so engaging and charming. They were just partners for life."

They were engaged 10 days later and married within six months. They had seven children.

Mr. Heldring was an avid hiker and a fan of the Dutch national soccer team. He was proud of his American citizenship, his family said, and became something of a presidential-history buff, reading biographies of each U.S. president and ranking his favorites (Abraham Lincoln topped the list, with Ulysses S. Grant a close second).

He enjoyed traveling with his family; last summer, he took 26 members of the extended Heldring family to Nicaragua.

When diagnosed with stage-four liver cancer three weeks ago, he told his family he had one wish: to live to see the Dutch national team win the 2014 World Cup.

"That's a terrible long shot," Goodrich said, laughing, "unless he can orchestrate something from heaven."

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Heldring is survived by three other daughters: Alice Ann, Mary Carroll Donahoe, and Louise Hummel; sons Martin, James, and Ted; 18 grandchildren; and his sister, Henriette, who recently turned 100. His wife died in 2012.

A viewing will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at St. Katharine of Siena Church, 104 S. Aberdeen Ave., Wayne. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, in the church.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to St. Martin de Porres School, 2300 W. Lehigh Ave., Philadelphia 19132; or Entrepreneur Works, 111 S. Independence Mall East, Suite 810, The Bourse Building, Philadelphia 19106.


awhelan@phillynews.com

215-854-2961 @aubreyjwhelan

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