For decades, Harry Silver made an impact in the private world of business; and for the last seven years, has been leaving his mark on the public one as well. Silver, the current president of the Alexandria City Council, has been the recipient of many distinguished awards, and this week was named the Cenla-ian of the Year by Cenla Focus magazine and a panel of community leaders. “It is a distinct honor and a privilege to join with such an auspicious group of people for this award. At 90, it’s a dividend that’s welcome, and I feel quite humbled about being recognized,” Silver, comfortably seated at his Alexandria home, says. The Cenla-ian of the Year Award is reserved for a select few who exemplify noteworthy leadership qualities and whose works are community standouts.
In the ‘50s, Silver thrived in the business corridor in downtown Alexandria, and by 1960 had become the sole owner of Weiss and Goldring, an upscale specialty store that would help anchor the opening of the Alexandria Mall in 1973. The successful businessman-turned-politician has become one of the premier “architects” of the city’s ever-changing business landscape as he continues to help with the plans to revitalize downtown Alexandria, an area which was once the heart of the city.
Known for his reputation as an “eternal optimist”, Silver stresses that the motivation behind his every involvement in the city, both in community organizations and civic affairs, has been to serve others. “My whole dedication is to try to help others. It was the reason I ran for office six years ago. I want to do whatever I can to improve the general conditions of the city,” declares Silver, who was first appointed to the council to fulfill an unexpired term. Even though Silver has only been in politics officially the last seven years, he jokes about how he was part of a “shadow government” for years as he worked closely behind the scenes for more than 60 years with improvements to the city.
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. “I fell in love with an attractive, sparkling Southern girl. I was 21, and she was 16,” Silver reminisces about Marilyn Levy Silver, his bride of 64 years. Silver was born and raised in East Orange, New Jersey. In high school, he was an athlete and graduated in the top 10 out of 600 graduates. After high school, Harry started pursuing a law degree at Rutgers University. “My dad and his two brothers had a law firm, so I grew up in and around the law,” notes Silver. However, in September 1942, he joined the Air Force to prepare to fight in World War II. After various assignments, Silver served as an athletic instructor and water-safety instructor in Abilene, Texas. “I would teach the soldiers how to swim through burning oil and how to survive by resting their chin on their helmet to keep them afloat,” he recalls.
By 1944, Silver was stationed at Esler Field in Pineville at the Air Force base. It was a move where he was destined to meet his future wife. At the Jewish Temple in Alexandria, Harry met Marilyn, who had grown up in Alexandria. In 1946, he was discharged from the Air Force. He returned to New Jersey to finish his law degree, attending both Rutgers and Columbia University simultaneously so he could finish his degree. He received his juris doctor from the School of Law at Rutgers University. But instead of remaining in the north to pursue a career as a lawyer, Harry moved back to Alexandria, and in 1948, married Marilyn Levy.
With his fashion and style sense, Silver was a natural to join the Levy family retail business in their 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.
Prior to working in the Alexandria store, Harry worked for a year at Beekman’s in New Orleans and later at Love’s in Lake Charles. He knew he wanted to remain in the retail business and not pursue law, so Harry bought out the family business. 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. “We saw a change in retail to greater specialization, and we are doing more business in our new location. It was a timely move,” Silver notes. Today, the Silvers’ son, Ted, has assumed the reins of the family business as the chief executive officer. At some point, all their four children have worked within the domain of the family business. Now, their oldest son, Bill, works in the restaurant business. Their daughter, Kathy, lives in Connecticut and owns a retail shop, while their youngest daughter, Amy, is a school teacher in Baton Rouge. The couple have three grandchildren.
Even early on in his business career, Silver was recognized for his success and business savvy. In 1957, he was named the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Alexandria’s Outstanding Man of the Year. Besides working for the city by serving on the Alexandria City Council, Silver has served as the president of the Alexandria Chapter Mental Health Board, chairman of the Rapides Foundation, chairman of the United Way Board, vice president and board member of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Rapides Regional Hospital Board, board member of the YMCA, president of the Jewish Temple and president of the Hotel Bentley Corporation.
In addition, Harry has been active in the Jaycees, the Salvation Army, served as chairman of the Alexandria Retail Merchants Association and as chairman of the Central Cities Development Corporation. As an Alexandria city councilman, he has served on numerous committees including finance, public safety, economic development, arts & entertainment, and has served as chairman of the Public Works zoning commission.
Not even a broken hip injury in April has been able to slow Silver down much. “I only missed one City Council meeting, and now I am down to walking with just a cane,” Silver notes, “I may be 90, but I believe I am progressive in my thinking and I want to continue to pursue things that will bring about a better quality of life for everyone in the city.”