Diagnosis spurs philanthropy, but he's beating the odds

Bob Rosen (right), with son Eric, has been generous with his donations.
Bob Rosen (right), with son Eric, has been generous with his donations. (TOM GRALISH / Staff)
Posted: August 23, 2014

Six months.

That's how much time Bob Rosen figured he had left.

The Yardley accountant was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, typically a rapidly spreading form of the disease. The doctors advised surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Rosen, 71, began getting his affairs in order.

He talked with his son Eric, who would have the responsibility of disbursing his father's $160,000 in charitable donations after Rosen passed away.

His father's generous gesture would be executed under heartbreaking circumstances; Eric Rosen dreaded the day. He told his father he had a better thought:

Why wait?

"I said, 'You are giving these monumental funds to these organizations, and you won't be anywhere around to be thanked,' " said Eric Rosen, 44. "You won't be able to experience the joy of giving the money."

In his hospital bed, Bob Rosen thought about his son's words. For decades, he and his wife, Barbara, had put away money for a time when they would help organizations they cared about. But the Rosens wouldn't be around to see their fruits of their generosity.

Barbara Rosen had died 14 years earlier from breast cancer. Bob Rosen figured he'd be gone in six months.

So father and son decided to change their giving strategy. On a more modest scale, they opted for the one called for by the billionaire Warren Buffett, who has urged his rich friends to give away their money.

But first, Bob Rosen had to survive the surgery.

Rosen began stashing away his charitable dollars as a young accountant. Earlier, he had worked his way through Temple University, where he met his wife.

"I worked as the switchboard operator in the boys' dorm. She was the operator for the girls' dorm," Bob Rosen said. Many of their dates were over the phone.

They married in 1965, and the couple eventually settled in the Philadelphia region. They raised sons Eric, a vice president at a Bucks County plastics manufacturer, and Fred, 46, a computer software engineer.

Along the way, Bob and Barbara Rosen discovered the causes they loved: their synagogue, Adath Israel in Lawrenceville, N.J; the Susan G. Komen foundation; and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bucks County, where Bob Rosen volunteered.

And then there was the Philly Pops.

"I planned my life around the concerts. If something was happening on the same day, the concert won," Rosen said.

Rosen and his wife, concert subscribers, would drive into town, sit in their mid-orchestra seats at the Kimmel Center, and bask in the music. Then, dinner and the ride home.

They so loved their time at the Pops concerts that the orchestra was one of the groups to which Bob Rosen decided to donate after his surgery.

During the eight-hour operation at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Bob Rosen had his gall bladder and parts of his pancreas and stomach removed.

Within weeks of the surgery, he began making donations.

For the Philly Pops, Bob Rosen wrote a check for $50,000, one of the largest individual donations the orchestra has received.

"It's remarkable," said Frank Giordano, board president and CEO of the orchestra.

With the money, the Philly Pops created a marketing fund named for Rosen that is being used to raise the orchestra's profile.

Recently, concert sales have jumped 20 percent, from 1,600 to 2,000 seats, Giordano said.

The orchestra thanked Rosen during a special ceremony in April.

"It was the most wonderful day," Rosen said, "It made me feel so happy."

While he was in a giving mood, Rosen also decided to disperse his bequests to family members and loved ones now.

He gave niece Stephanie Saxe of Seattle funds that she has stored away for her children's education.

"We were so touched by his gift. It is very emotional for us," Saxe said.

That was 10 months ago.

Rosen's six months has turned into quite a bit longer.

"I guess you could say I'm in remission. My CAT scan was clear," Rosen said of his most recent trip to the doctor, a turn of events he can't seem to talk about without crying.

Now, Rosen works part-time at Klatzkin & Co., in Langhorne, where he has worked for 47 years, and meets regularly with his family for dinners, at home and at restaurants.

He'd like to visit Ireland, but he's not sure it'll happen.

But Rosen is pretty sure of where he'll be Oct. 17 - in his mid-orchestra seat for the first concert of the season.


kholmes@phillynews.com

610-313-8211

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