Harry Silver’s life story, so far, is of a life well lived. At 95 years old, Silver is believed to be the state’s oldest active city councilman,.
For the last 12 years, Silver, the owner of Weiss and Goldring, an upscale specialty store, has served the city of Alexandria as councilman of District 4. He embodies the philosophy of “not letting your age define you.” For his dedicated service to the community and for his role in enhancing economic developments in the city, Silver has been named the Cenla-ian of the Year by Cenla Focus magazine and a panel of community leaders, making him the first two-time honoree. “Anytime a person is recognized, it is a compliment. But I’m gratified and honored to join with such an auspicious group of people for this award,” Silver, dressed impeccably while seated in his office, says about the recognition.
The Cenla-ian of the Year is reserved for a select few who exemplify noteworthy leadership qualities and whose works are community standouts. For more than 65 years, Silver has volunteered and worked behind the scenes to improve the city in any way he can. A big proponent of “giving back,” there is hardly an organization or charitable event in Central Louisiana that Silver has not touched in some capacity. Despite his efforts, he is not one to “toot his own horn.” Yet, just this year, Silver was voted as the favorite councilman in the Cenla Focus’ Best of Cenla Awards. “If you do your part, the ‘good’ will surface. A person does not have to talk about their accomplishments,” Silver says. His office walls are full of special awards and honors bestowed upon him through the decades. It’s a testament to his willingness to serve.
Silver was first appointed to the Alexandria City Council in 2005 to serve out an unexpired term. He has won subsequent elections for the District 4 position ever since. When first elected, Silver says the city council discovered there was a $50 million surplus of funds that were allocated for improvements in the city that were never spent. He was instrumental in setting outlay priorities, and with those discovered funds, helped develop “Operation Fast Track” for the city. “That began the rebirth of improvements in the entire city,” Silver notes. The councilman has been key in helping to revitalize downtown Alexandria and being committed to infrastructure investment, urban renewal and smart growth projects.
“I love this city. There have been some dramatic improvements, but there is still a lot of infrastructure needs. The city is old,” Silver says, adding that any time a project is presented to the city council, he asks how it will benefit the city, how will it improve the district in which it’s being proposed and will it be harmful to any of the residents? He maintains the driving force for him to stay active in the political realm is to try to help others and to continue to serve the city any way he can. With his upbeat attitude, Silver has gained a reputation as an “eternal optimist,” and admits the moniker is apropos. “It’s true. I’m a born optimist. I believe it takes 35 muscles to frown, but only 7 muscles to smile. I believe in being positive and having a good sense of humor,” Silver says.
His take on life has served him in good stead, as Silver has left quite an imprint in the business world of Cenla, as well as in the political arena. Although it was a military assignment that first brought him to Rapides Parish in 1944, it was love that made him decide to locate permanently to the area. He has been married to his soulmate, Marilyn Levy Silver, for 69 years.
After high school, Silver started pursuing a law degree at Rutgers University. In 1942, he joined the Air Force to prepare to fight in World War II. Later, he was stationed at Esler Field in Pineville. He met Marilyn at the Jewish Temple in Alexandria, and by 1946, he was discharged from the Air Force. He returned home to New Jersey to complete his law degree, and received his juris doctor from the School of Law at Rutgers University.
With his fashion and style sense, Silver was a natural to join the Levy family retail business, Weiss and Goldring department store. In 1901, the family business was located at the corner of 2nd St. and Murray in Alexandria. When the business needed to expand in the early ‘50s, Weiss and Goldring relocated to downtown Alexandria at the corner of Third St. and DeSoto. Silver knew he wanted to remain in the retail business and not pursue law, so he purchased the store. He and Marilyn became the sole owners of Weiss and Goldring in 1960.
While the downtown area was the place to shop for decades, growth and demographics prompted the opening of several more retail outlets. In 1973, the Alexandria Mall opened and the Silvers made a decision to relocate their store. Weiss and Goldring became one of the first tenants of the mall and a major anchor store. Although the store prospered inside the mall, the Silvers, a few years ago, made the decision to move out of the mall and relocate to 3601 Masonic Drive, located in a 5,000-square-foot building at the front of the mall’s main entrance. “In fashion and retail, there is always change. We need to be flexible. Build on what is safe and sound, but be able to have a vision because nothing is really stationary,” Silver says, adding that Weiss and Goldring is celebrating their 118th year of operation.
Silver believes, as a city councilman, he needs to be a visionary, and says he plans to run for re-election next year. If re-elected, Silver will turn 100 years old during his next term. “I plan to reach that milestone,” he says with a bright grin on his face. Perhaps for Silver, the adage, “Like a fine wine, we get better with age,” will prove to be true, and the best is yet to come for him and for Cenla.