Posted on | October 20, 2013
Written by | BevNetwork
Harry J. Shapira, the Executive Vice President of Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., who helped oversee the country’s largest, family-owned and operated producer and marketer of distilled spirits — a business founded after Prohibition by his father and four uncles — died Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013 after a ten-year battle with cancer. He was 66.
As one of Heaven Hill’s senior executives, Shapira helped create and design the company’s two new visitor centers: the Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, set to open next month in the heart of Louisville’s historic “Whiskey Row.” During Shapira’s years of leadership, the company expanded its offerings from bourbon and other American whiskeys to a broad portfolio of distilled spirits products in virtually all segments of the industry. Industry sources report the company is now the country’s sixth-largest spirits supplier and the second largest holder of aging bourbon.
Shapira was also a significant philanthropist in Louisville. He was president of the Shapira Foundation, which has donated funds to organizations such as the Jewish Community of Louisville, the Frazier Rehab Institute, Jewish Family and Career Services, the Keneseth Israel Congregation. He and his wife also donated to Gilda’s Club of Louisville, along with many other charities, such as the Speed Art Museum and the Fund for the Arts. He served as a board member of the regional cancer center corporation at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville, where he was also a major donor.
Shapira served for several years as President of Keneseth Israel Congregation and he was a former president of the Eliahu Academy, the city’s Jewish Day school. He was also a Bellarmine University trustee. In 2012, after Heaven Hill began making kosher products, he received the Aaron Chase Award from the Louisville Vaad Hakashruth organization, which provides Kosher certification in the city.
Harry Shapira’s father, David M. Shapira, who died in 1987, co-founded Heaven Hill Distilleries shortly after Prohibition ended with his four brothers, Gary, Ed, George, and Mose. The five Shapira brothers took a gamble that, in the midst of a battered economy, they and other investors could build a distillery, age enough bourbon, and make a profit. Several years later, the Shapira brothers bought out their other investors and began growing the business.
Shapira and his cousin, Max L. Shapira, the company’s President, represent Heaven Hill’s second generation of leadership. A third generation of the Shapira family is now fully involved in management of the company.
Shapira is survived by his wife of 42 years, Judy F. Shapira; his son Adam Shapira, a cardiac electrophysiologist in Dallas and his wife Debra; his younger son Ian Shapira, a Washington Post staff writer and his wife Caroline; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by his 99-year-old mother, Anne E. Shapira.