Julian I. Edison, former shoe executive, philanthropist, dies at 87

Julian I. Edison, then executive vice president of Edison Brothers Stores Inc., listens as the Rev. Paul C. Reinert, S.J., president of St. Louis University, reads the text of a citation presented to Mr. Edison in 1968, when he received the university’s Sesquicentennial Award for his work as a founder and the first president of the Associates of St. Louis University Libraries.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Julian I. Edison, former chairman of Edison Brothers Stores Inc. and a generous supporter of nonprofit organizations in the Jewish and general communities, died Monday, May 8, of a stroke. He was 87. 

Mr. Edison was widely admired for his business leadership, keen intellect and support of a wide variety of community causes and agencies.

Under Mr. Edison’s leadership, Edison Brothers became one of the largest apparel and footwear companies in the United States, reaching its peak in the early 1990s with $1.5 billion in sales and about 2,700 stores.   

Edison Brothers was founded in 1922 by Mr. Edison’s father, Mark A. Edison, and his father’s four brothers, Harry, Samuel, Irving and Simon.  

Julian Edison was elected chairman of the firm in 1974 and was president of the stores division. His cousin Bernard  was president of the company. The two left their roles in 1987 but stayed on for a period as outside directors. The firm ceased operations in 1999.

Julian Irving Edison was born in St. Louis on May 12, 1929, the son of Mark and Ida Edison.

After graduating from John Burroughs School in 1947, he attended Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1951. He earned a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration in 1953.

Mr. Edison was owned a vast collection of miniature books,  which were part of an exhibit at Washington University. The collection started when his wife, Hope Edison, gave him a gift of Shakespeare plays in miniature format. Mr. Edison’s son Aaron admired his father’s “far and wide curiosity,” which he often discussed with his father.

Mr. Edison was one of the founders and the first president of the Associates of St. Louis University Libraries during the term of Rev. Paul Reinert as president of St. Louis University. On the occasion of Mr. Edison’s installation as president of the group, Reinert described him as “a connoisseur of the printed word.” The Associates sponsor annual lectures by prominent writers who have included Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and David Grossman.

Among the many boards on which Mr. Edison served were Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, the Jewish Community Center and the St. Louis Art Museum. He was a past co-chairman of the Interracial Council for Business Opportunity in St. Louis. 

Mr. Edison and his wife were longtime members of Congregation Temple Israel, where funeral services were held for him May 11.

Rabbi Amy Feder officiated at the Temple Israel service, paying tribute to the “gifts of his heart and mind, that gave us such joy.”  

Mr. Edison had a “boundless appetite for knowledge. The rooms of his home were piled high with books, copies of The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and various magazines,” Feder said. “He was knowledgeable about numerous topics and loved to discuss them.”

In addition to Mr. Edison’s intellect, Feder praised him as “thoughtful, ingratiating and so loving,” and remarked on his “warm sense of humor, which he shared with me and so many others.” 

Mr. Edison’s family, in a statement issued for his obituary said, “Julian was devoted to his family and his city and was passionate about books,  art, education, Mozart, chocolate and a good joke.” 

Mr. Edison is survived by his wife of 58 years, Hope Rabb Edison; two sons, Mark (Iliana) and Aaron; and two grandchildren.

Burial was private. 

Memorial contributions preferred to the St. Louis Arts Museum or the Radio Arts Foundation.