Obituary: James Aiken Fisher / Scientific firm innovator dedicated life to arts in city

March 15, 1920 - Feb. 12, 2014


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James Aiken Fisher, best known for his contributions to his family's company, Fisher Scientific, and for his influence and contributions to art in Pittsburgh, died with family present in his Squirrel Hill home Wednesday from complications from a fall in September. He was 93.

"Jim Fisher lived his long life in a quest for excellence. ... The city is greatly in his debt, and his friends, myself among them, have lost a titan." said Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation in New York City, who previously was the curator of contemporary art at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Mr. Fisher was born March 15, 1920, in Pittsburgh, where he lived for most of his life. He attended Shady Side Academy, graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1938 and received a bachelor's degree from Yale in 1942.

Passionate about Exeter, Mr. Fisher was a former trustee and raised funds for the school.

Like his brothers, Aiken and Ben, Mr. Fisher became active in the company his father, Chester G. Fisher, founded in 1902, Fisher Scientific, and worked in sales and marketing. Among other innovations, Mr. Fisher was responsible for the company's first color catalog.

The company is part now part of Thermo Fisher Scientific, a producer of analytical instruments, laboratory equipment, software, services, consumable items and reagents for research, safety, health care and science education, according to its website.

While his degree was in English, Mr. Fisher was so passionate about and well-versed in medicine and science that his doctors would often ask if he was one himself, his son Chester G. Fisher III of Ligonier said.

Mr. Fisher dedicated his life to the arts in Pittsburgh.

"He never lost focus of how important the city is that made his life possible," said his great-nephew Charlie Humphrey, executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Mr. Fisher was a trustee of Carnegie Institute, as well as a board member for the Carnegie Science Center and the Carnegie Museum of Art, and helped found the Fellows at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

He often used his background in marketing to help the museums, said Marty McGuinn, chairman of the board of the Carnegie Museum. "He pushed to make [the museums] better recognized in the community," he said.

Mr. Fisher also fought for The Andy Warhol Museum to be located in Pittsburgh, instead of New York City.

"He was a catalyst in the organization of The Andy Warhol Museum and its great ally," Mr. Armstrong said.

In addition to the arts, Mr. Fisher was fiercely interested in language.

His family said he saw a lazy attitude toward the English language and so he wrote a book, "Talking Correctly for Success: A Practical Guide for Business, Professional, and Social Success by Sounding 'Right,' " now in its second printing and available on Amazon.com.

For years, Mr. Fisher listened carefully; made notes of incorrect spelling, grammar and pronunciation; and tucked them away in a box. When he retired from Fisher Scientific, Mr. Fisher penned the book.

"He was a real stickler," Chester Fisher said of his father's love of language. "Growing up, we had to be very careful."

Mr. Fisher also played the upright bass. When he played, Mr. Humphrey said, "he seemed like he lost himself in the process, which was lovely."

Mr. Fisher and his wife, Edith "Toto" Hall Fisher, whom he met and married in 1955, are known as gracious hosts and avid collectors of early 20th-century American art.

"I'm the luckiest woman in the world. I had almost 59 years of marriage with this man," Mrs. Fisher said. "It's been an amazing, amazing life."

Chester Fisher said he visited his father often while he was in hospice care at his home. They spent hours reminiscing, and every time he visited, Chester said he tried to make his father laugh.

Mr. Humphrey said, "He was an extremely creative guy, fiercely intelligent, witty, disciplined and a lot of fun to be around."

Mr. Fisher also is survived by sons George S. Fisher of Miami and James A. Fisher Jr. of Salt Lake City; and four grandchildren.

The family will receive visitors from 3 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at their Squirrel Hill home.

A service and interment are private.

Gifts in Mr. Fisher's memory can be made to the Carnegie Institute (Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh), 4000 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213.


Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc.


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