Richard J. Eskind, noted philanthropist, financial business leader, health care entrepreneur and spouse of a trailblazing Tennessean politician, passed away early Wednesday morning, November 22, 2023. He was 93.
A native Nashvillian, Eskind helped grow the city into the community it is today.
Eskind was among the financial leaders who helped establish Nashville as the “Wall Street of the South” in the 1960s and 1970s. During a long, storied career as a stockbroker and financial advisor, Eskind served as vice president and resident manager of the Nashville branch of investment firm A.G. Edwards and Sons Inc. He passed on his financial acumen to his son, Billy, who in later years became his business partner.
Eskind was also at the forefront of Nashville’s booming healthcare industry. He founded three healthcare companies and took each public – a feat only achieved once before by Nashville’s own Jack C. Massey.
As a political spouse, his wife of 62 years, Jane Eskind, was a political pioneer and the first woman, and still the only Jewish person, ever to win statewide election in Tennessee when elected to the Public Service Commission (now the Tennessee Regulatory Authority) in 1980, later serving as its chairman. She passed away in 2016.
As a philanthropist, Richard Eskind was among the founders of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT), which facilitates philanthropy across a 40-county area in Middle Tennessee. CFMT began in his daughter Ellen Lehman’s garage in 1991. Lehman, also one of The Foundation’s founders, retired as its president on Dec. 31, 2022. The organization has surpassed $1.2 billion in giving to area nonprofits.
Richard Jerome Eskind was born Oct. 11, 1930, son of the late Florence and Herbert Eskind. His father was active in the family business, J. Eskind & Sons, which included wholesale dry goods and department store operations that included Lebeck’s, a predecessor of Harvey’s.
Richard Eskind attended Nashville public schools, among them Parmer School, and graduated from West End High School, just up the street from the family home.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics in 1952 from Harvard University, and received his Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Harvard in 1954, the same year he married the former Jane Greenebaum of Louisville, Kentucky.
After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, Eskind joined the family’s wholesale appliance business, J. Eskind and Sons. His sales work included barnstorming Middle Tennessee, from Dickson to Red Boiling Springs, with a new television tucked in his car’s back seat and the trunk filled with beverages, supplied by his family’s wholesale liquor business, to help coax prospective customers.
The financial business world soon beckoned.
“I had done a little securities business with a couple of brokers in town, as a small investor, and came to believe that there were some things that some of the other brokers weren’t doing that were very important,” Eskind told Advantage magazine in May 1983.
Eskind recalled to The Tennessean in a 2001 interview, “I did not want to just get a desk at a brokerage firm.” Instead, Eskind opened a branch of Stein Bros. & Boyce, an established firm headquartered in Baltimore and traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), in Nashville in 1959.
Before the branch opened, there were only three NYSE member firms in Nashville.
It “was really a two-people office,” Eskind told The Tennessean. “I was the manager and the broker and the window cleaner and everything else, and we had an assistant who came in three weeks after we opened it.”
The firm, which had expanded to a staff of 26 by the early 1990s, started in downtown’s old Third National Bank building at Fourth Avenue North and Church Street. The firm later became A.G. Edwards & Sons, which eventually was acquired by Wachovia Securities, and later was acquired by Wells Fargo Advisors.
Eskind also was on the forefront of Nashville’s health care industry — what he referred to as his “moonlighting” — as a founder, along with older brother and business partner Dr. Irwin Eskind, Dr. Herb Schulman and Baron Coleman, of Hospital Affiliates International Inc. (HAI) in the 1960s.
Later, he was a founder and former director of the health maintenance organization (HMO) HealthAmerica Corporation with an investment team that included ex-HAI employee and future Tennessee governor and Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen.
In addition, Eskind and others later founded ClinTrials Research Inc., the third of three companies that went public.
Beyond his successes in financial management and health care entrepreneurship, Eskind and his business partners also founded Nashville institutions like Strike ‘N Spare bowling alley and Swim and Sun, a pool and a swim shop, both located on White Bridge Road, as well as The Oxford Shop men’s clothing store.
Then again, Eskind, while experiencing great success in the business world, for many years was better known as the spouse of a well-known political figure. That never bothered him.
On the contrary, “As a matter of fact, I’m known to many people as ‘Mr. Jane,’” Eskind unhesitatingly told Advantage magazine. “In 1978 one of the reporters wrote an article — it was more of an oddity then, I guess — and it was entitled, ‘The Spouse Who Wore a Necktie.’”
Richard Eskind was an elected delegate to the 1977 Tennessee Constitutional Convention representing the 55th Legislative District, but said he never had further political aspirations of his own.
“… I’m very proud of her and the job she’s doing,” Eskind said of his famed wife, “and I have no ego problems on the line, no problems that way at all. I’ve had a lot of people say to me, ‘I can’t imagine how you do it.’ I just laugh. It’s something I never even think about.”
Jane also became the first woman to chair the state Democratic Party. Over the years the Eskinds gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic causes. Their partnership became a philanthropic dynamo, though, both in community and political circles.
The Eskinds established a number of funds at The Community Foundation and remained active benefactors through the years, beginning with the Jane and Richard Eskind and Family Fund 1992, just a year after the Foundation launched in 1991.
Eskind was a longtime member of The Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Past civic and community service and board work also included: president of Congregation Micah and The Temple Brotherhood, Fisk University board of trustees and executive committee, director of the Nashville Symphony board, the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, the International Board of the Associated Harvard Alumni, and the Harvard Club and Harvard Business School Club of Nashville and Middle Tennessee.
He was a recipient of the 2002 Human Relations Award presented by The National Conference of Community and Justice.
Beyond his business and philanthropic successes, Richard Eskind loved nothing better than being surrounded by his family.
Eskind is survived by daughter Ellen Lehman, son Billy Eskind (Jamie), both of Nashville; sister-in-law Annette Eskind of Nashville; brother-in-law and sister in-law, John and Mary Greenebaum of Louisville; grandchildren Jeremy Lehman, Madeline Eskind Litvack (Willie), Doni Lehman, Alec Eskind, Isaac Eskind and Jude Eskind; great-grandson Jack Litvack; nieces and nephews Steve and Laurie Eskind, Jeff and Donna Eskind, Sam Greenebaum, Anastasia Greenebaum (Scott), Eliott Greenebaum, Michael Eskind (Kristen), Julie Eskind Galbierz (Andrew), David Eskind (Megan), Matt Eskind (Cara), and Sara Eskind.
Besides his wife and his parents, he was preceded in death by his brother, Dr. Irwin B. Eskind.
Services will be held at Congregation Micah, 2001 Old Hickory Blvd., Brentwood, Tennessee on Sunday, November 26th at 2pm, with a burial to follow at Congregation Micah’s cemetery. His grandchildren will serve as pallbearers. Gifts can be made to the Jane and Richard Eskind and Family Fund at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee or to the charity of your choice.Donate in Memory of Mr. Eskind