Herb Lotman, 80, Phila. food magnate, philanthropist

Herb Lotman at City Hall in 2010. (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer )
Herb Lotman at City Hall in 2010. (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer ) (Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 10, 2014

Jim Murray recalled the first time he was together in a car with Herb Lotman and the millionaire food supply entrepreneur who was about to start a women's golf tournament to raise money for charity gave a tour of his old neighborhood in West Philadelphia.

"He was authentic," said Murray, the former Eagles general manager and a founder of the first Ronald McDonald House in the United States. "He was one of a kind, a kid from the old neighborhood who never forgot his roots."

Mr. Lotman, a gregarious man with a big heart who died Thursday at the age of 80, spent his life giving back to his home area. The founder of Keystone Foods, he and his partners made mass produced frozen burgers a reality and the firm became a major supplier of beef, chicken and fish to McDonald's Restaurants.

He was co-founder of the McDonald's Championship, an LPGA tournament that raised around $48 million in its 29 years of existence for Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He saved diverse enterprises such as the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta and the Prince Music Theater. He and his wife, Karen, created a foundation dedicated to finding a cure for macular degeneration and related retinal diseases.

Mr. Lotman's loss was deeply felt Friday along the Schuylkill River. When continuous financial losses in 2009 forced Dad Vail organizers to consider moving the regatta to New Jersey, he made some calls at the city's request and eventually obtained Aberdeen Asset Management as title sponsor and Coca-Cola as one of the presenting sponsors.

"It was the critical moment," Mayor Michael Nutter said Friday. "There was talk about the Dad Vail going away and money and all kind of challenges. Herb was the guy who kept everyone at the table. He would not let it go. If you look up 'dog with a bone,' you're going to see Herb Lotman's picture. This meant so much to everyone and he literally saved it by sheer force of will."

Mr. Lotman's pet project was the LPGA tournament he founded along with Frank Quinn, a former McDonald's owner-operator. The event began in 1981 at White Manor Country Club in Malvern and immediately rose among the leaders on any golf tour in charitable funds raised.

The event became the McDonald's LPGA Championship, one of the tour's four major tournaments, in 1994 and was played at Dupont Country Club in Wilmington before moving to Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace, Md., in 2006. The last competition under the McDonald's sponsorship came in 2009.

"Herb had a wonderful way of making everybody feel comfortable," Quinn said. "His best friends were the people in the small positions. He really was one of a kind. We shared some great memories."

Murray, whose public relations company handled publicity for the tournament, said Mr. Lotman's generosity reached out worldwide to where there are now 336 Ronald McDonald Houses in 35 countries.

"If it wasn't for guys like Herbie, we wouldn't have nearly as many," Murray said. "With him, it's not just the money. People like Herbie are all in. He didn't like to finish second. He always wanted us to be the best of the best."

In a statement, the LPGA called Mr. Lotman "a great friend" and "a leader dedicated to women's golf and its charities."

"This passion for the game – and our tour – helped to build the legacy of the LPGA Championship," it said. "The LPGA has always been driven by corporate visionaries that lead us, and Herb was certain one of them."

Mr. Lotman, who liked to call himself "a plain old butcher," left behind many achievements in his profession, but left his biggest imprint helping people.

"Philadelphia enjoys the benefit of people like Herb, who made sure that things happened and happened well," said Jack Galloway, chairman of the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta. "He was an advanced, forward-looking guy who took his success and was perfectly prepared to spread it around."

Mr. Lotman is survived by his wife, Karen; a son, Jeff; a daughter, Shelly Fisher; a sister, Marlene Weinberg; and five grandchildren.

Services will be held 1 p.m. Monday at Main Line Reform Temple, 410 Montgomery Ave., Wynnewood. Interment will be private.

E-mail: jjuliano@phillynews.com

Twitter: @joejulesinq

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