Norman Rubenstein, 93; attorney turned major hat company executive

Norman Martin Rubenstein

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

Norman Martin Rubenstein, who helped build one of the largest hat businesses in the United States, died Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the Gatesworth in University City. He and his wife had resided there for about 10 years. He suffered a stroke in December 2011, family members said.

Mr. Rubenstein’s firm, the Paramount Cap Manufacturing Co., became one of the largest headwear manufacturers in America in the course of his career with the company.  His company made hats in small plants in farming communities in rural Missouri. When the company was at its professional zenith, from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, Mr. Rubenstein had 15 plants with 3,400 employees.

Mr. Rubenstein’s father and uncle started the business in St. Louis in 1929 and moved it to Bourbon, Mo. in 1936.

Mr. Rubenstein earned a law degree from Washington University in 1942, fully intending to practice law after passing the Missouri Bar examination. In 1942 he joined the U.S. Army in World War II. He was deployed to Hawaii and was put in charge of 1,000 troops that censored mail from troops stationed throughout the South Pacific. Any mention of where troops were headed was deleted from the G.I. letters for security reasons.

He left the Army with the rank of captain, returned to St. Louis and was offered a job at a law firm for $25 a week.  Instead, he decided to join the family hat business, and presided over its major growth.

He retired from the firm in 1990, and the firm was taken over by his son and his son’s cousin.

The company was reorganized as Paramount Apparel International, a major maker of clothing and hats for Nike, Wal-Mart, Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops. Some manufacturing was moved to China, but the firm still has plants in Bourbon and Winona, Mo.

Mr. Rubenstein had a long affiliation with Brith Sholom Kneseth Congregation. He served on the BSKI board and served as its vice president.

He also served on the board of the Jewish Center for Aged and on the Board of Governors of Meadowbrook Country Club, where he was president for two years.

Mr. Rubenstein was prominent in the community of Bourbon and the surrounding area. He served as president of its school board and was a member of the Bourbon American Legion Post and of Sullivan, Mo.’s Masonic Lodge.

A graveside service was held last Sunday at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, 650 White Road in Chesterfield.

Survivors include a son, Mark Rubenstein, of St. Louis; two daughters, Lynn Wallis of Cuba, Mo., and Jane Wasserman of Chesterfield; a sister, Sylvia Levinson of St. Louis County; 13 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. His wife, Geraldine “Gerry” Rubenstein, died in 2009.