The Fishers’ Vision

Zachary Fisher and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a reception following the presentation of the Presidential Freedom Award. (September 14, 1998)

Zachary Fisher and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a reception following the presentation of the Presidential Freedom Award. (September 14, 1998)

Acknowledged by the Armed Forces as the nation’s most dedicated patriot, Zachary Fisher considered himself to be the luckiest man alive. He had two rewarding careers, one in the invest­ment building sector of New York’s real estate industry, the other as a private citizen serving his country. Born in Brooklyn, New York, young Zachary left high school at age 16 to help in the family construction business. He laid bricks until a serious building accident nearly cost him his left leg. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he was rejected by the military due to his injury.

Over the years, Zachary’s family business skyrocketed along with his devotion to his country. Fisher Construction is one of the industry’s leaders, contributing some of the most prestigious corporate office buildings to the New York skyline. After 50 successful years as a real estate developer, Zachary Fisher embarked on a new career that would ultimately touch the lives of thousands of Americans. Zachary wanted to give something back to those who gave their lives to preserve his freedom and that feeling stayed with him his entire life. Zachary’s future wife, Elizabeth, was also passionate about serving the armed forces from her time spent traveling overseas during World War II as an entertainer with the USO.

Their marriage in 1943 was the beginning of a love story – two extraordinary people, their love for each other and for their country. They began searching for ways to support military families around the world.

In 1983, the Fishers established the “Zachary and Elizabeth M. Fisher Armed Forces Foundation” to provide financial assistance to military families in need. That need arose when 47 crewmen were killed in a 1989 turret explosion aboard the USS Iowa. The Fishers gave each of the families $25,000 along with a letter explaining that while nothing could compensate the loss of their loved ones, they hoped there was some comfort in knowing that two strangers cared enough about their grief to send a token of their remorse. Again, they stepped in to help the families of casualties from the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut.

The Fishers’ generosity has been extraordinary. Besides enormous financial assistance, college scholarships and the building of New York’s Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, the Fishers continued to ask what more they could do for the military family. Then, Pauline Trost, wife of former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Carlisle Trost, suggested the idea for comfortable, affordable family housing near military hospitals. The Fisher’s knew this need fit perfectly with their objectives. The Houses became a tangible way of finally expressing their gratitude to the men and women in uniform.

“Where there is a military, there will always be a Fisher House. Where there is a Fisher House, there will always be love and caring, warmth and compassion,” said Zachary.

In 1998, Zachary Fisher received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award the country can bestow on a civilian. In 1999, Public Law 106-161 conferred “honorary veteran” status on philanthropist Zachary Fisher, making him the second individual (Bob Hope being the first) so recognized.

Today, the Fishers’ vision has resulted in the building of 87 Fisher Homes for Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs medical centers. If that number isn’t impressive enough, on any given night, more than 1,100 families can safely and free of charge stay in a Fisher House.  400,000 families have been served since 1990, $500 million in savings to families since 1990 and 9.5 million days of lodging have been provided.