Frederic Alan Sharf, of Palm Beach and Chestnut Hill, a businessman, philanthropist, scholar and avid collector of forgotten treasures, died Monday, Nov. 27, 2017 in West Palm Beach after a long illness. He was 83.
“Fred was the only Renaissance man I ever met,” said his lifelong friend, Bruce Beal of Palm Beach. “He was curiously intellectual. He pursued his interests with vigor. His curiosity was infectious.”
Mr. Sharf, who turned down a job teaching history at Harvard University to go into the family business, channeled his love of history into collecting. He sought things that were overlooked by other collectors, sometimes as they were about to be discarded.
His collections included Spanish-American War illustrations, architectural drawings, automotive design drawings, Japanese Meiji period woodblock prints, fashion illustrations, 1940s British women’s wear and, most recently, cartoons.
Through his scholarship and initiative, he elevated his collectibles into museum-worthy objects. He curated exhibitions from his collections, wrote or edited more than 40 books and donated collections to museums.
He was a trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Essex Institute (a forerunner of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.); and The Wolfsonian-FIU in Miami Beach, as well as Beth Israel Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. In 2016, Mr. Sharf and his wife, Jean, donated $1 Million to MorseLife in West Palm Beach for the senior care facility’s welcome center.
Locally, Mr. Sharf’s collections were featured in the Flagler Museum’s With a Wink and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded Age in 2015 and the museum’s current exhibition, Knights of the Air Aviator Heros of World War 1, as well as the Norton Museum’s 2012 Keep Calm and Carry On: World War II and the British Home Front, 1938-1951 and 2015’s Going Places: Transportation Designs from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection.
He also exhibited his art at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and MorseLife Health System in West Palm Beach.
Hope Alswang, the Norton Museum’s chief executive officer, remembers Mr. Sharf as one of the first supporters of the museum’s Foster + Partners-designed expansion, which is scheduled to open in February 2019.
“He was a remarkable visionary,” she said. “He was bigger than life. He was deeply engaged in what was happening culturally and he was a dear friend of the Norton.”
Mr. Sharf was born Aug. 13, 1934, in Boston. He attended Phillips Academy, Andover in Massachusetts and graduated in 1956 from Harvard University. He earned a master’s degree in history from Harvard before joining his father and uncle in M. Sharf & Co. in Boston.
Mr. Sharf built the business into a sports marketing and management company offering services to professional ice hockey and tennis athletes. In addition to Palm Beach, he and his wife resided in New York and Boston.
She recalls their first meeting at a synagogue in Boston.
“He was there with his father,” she said. “He wasn’t paying attention to the service at all. He looked up and saw me and managed to be introduced to me after the service.”
They were married for 56 years. It’s been an interesting marriage, she said. “He was absolutely fascinating and fun to be with.”
Mr. Sharf was “a bit of a character,” said resident Judie Schlager, who has known the Sharfs since before they were married. “He lived life exactly the way he wanted and he did wonderful things for many people. He will be sorely missed.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Sharf is survived by a daughter, Lisa Sharf Green; a son-in-law, Eric Green; and two grandchildren, Parker Green and Bennett Green of New York City. A memorial service in Palm Beach is planned for a to-be-decided date in December.