SHAPIRA, HARRY J., the executive vice president of Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., who helped oversee the country's largest, family-owned and operated producer and marketer of distilled spirits--a business founded after Prohibition, died Sunday, October 13, 2013 after a 10-year battle with cancer. He was 66.
As one of Heaven Hill's senior executives, Shapira helped create and design the company's two new modern attraction centers: the Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, KY and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, set to open next month in the heart of Louisville on the city's historic "Whiskey Row." During Shapira's years of leadership, the company expanded its offerings from bourbon and other American whiskeys to an array of distilled spirits products in virtually all segments of the industry. The company is reportedly now the country's sixth-largest spirits supplier and second largest holder of aging bourbon.
Shapira was a significant philanthropist in Louisville. He was president of the Shapira Foundation, which has donated funds to organizations such as the city's the Jewish Community of Louisville, the Frazier Rehab Institute, Jewish Family and Career Services, the Keneseth Israel Congregation.
He and his wife also donated to Gilda's Club of Louisville, along with many other charities, such as the Speed Art Museum and the Fund for the Arts. He served as a board member of the regional cancer center corporation at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville, where he was also a major donor.
He served for several years as president of Keneseth Israel Congregation and he was a former president of the Eliahu Academy, the city's Jewish Day school. He was also a Bellarmine University trustee. In 2012, after Heaven Hill began making kosher products, he received the Aaron Chase Award from the Louisville Vaad Hakashruth organization, which provides Kosher certification in the city.
Shapira was born on April 8, 1947 in Louisville.
His father, David M. Shapira, who died in 1987, co-founded Heaven Hill Distilleries shortly after Prohibition ended with his four brothers, Gary, Ed, George and Mose. The five Shapira brothers took a gamble that, in the midst of a battered economy, they and other investors could build a distillery, age enough bourbon, and make a profit. Several years later, the Shapira brothers bought out their other investors and began growing the business.
Shapira and his cousin, Max Shapira, the company's president, represent Heaven Hill's second generation of leadership. A third generation of Shapiras continues to operate the company.
After Shapira graduated from the University of Louisville's College of Business, he served two years in the U.S. Army at the Pentagon during the Vietnam War. Before he went to work for his family's business, he worked in the executive training program at the Lazarus department store chain in Columbus, OH. He then returned to Louisville to manage his family's chain of retail clothing stores that had been founded in the early 1900s by his grandfather, Max Shapira.
By the mid-1990s, the family closed its retail stores, and Shapira focused his attention on the company's distilled spirits business. He was most proud of the Bourbon Heritage Center, where he could often be seen signing bottles of bourbon and talking to visitors about the distillery's history.
Most of all, Shapira loved being with his family and three grandchildren. He was proud of his two sons, a doctor and journalist. He loved traveling, especially on cruises around the world, and doing the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles with his wife, Judy. He collected small model cars. He loved watching James Bond movies, football games, and the Louisville Cardinals basketball team.
Shapira is survived by his wife of 42 years, Judy F. Shapira; his son Adam Shapira, a cardiac electrophysiologist in Dallas and his wife Debra Kissner Shapira, and their two daughters Lydia and Audrey; and his younger son Ian Shapira, a Washington Post staff writer, and his wife Caroline Turner Shapira, and their daughter Margot. Other survivors include his 99-year-old mother, Anne E. Shapira; a sister, Miriam Ostroff; his mother-in-law, Libby Frank; his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Armand and Paula Frank; his niece and nephew, Holly Frank and Jonathan Frank; and other nieces and nephews.
The family would like to thank Dr. Donald Miller, director of the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, along with the center's staff; Dr. Forrest Kuhn; Henry Penn; Eva Jackson; Carmelita Clay and her nursing staff of Marie Deramus, Nicole Denning, Rebecca Frazier, and Susann Robillard. Also, the family would like to thank Cel Nall, Shapira's secretary for the last 15 years.
Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at Keneseth Israel, 2531 Taylorsville Road, Louisville. Visitation will be 12:30 p.m. and the funeral service is at 2 p.m.
Donations in Shapira's honor can be made to Keneseth Israel Congregation; the James Graham Brown Cancer Center; and Gilda's Club of Louisville.
Published in The Courier-Journal from Oct. 14 to Oct. 15, 2013