In Memoriam: The Commercial Real Estate Notables Who Died in the Past Year

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The commercial real estate industry lost two of its giants in just the past three weeks.

On May 4, John Cushman III, Cushman & Wakefield (CWK)’s chairman for global transactions, died at the age of 82. Cushman started in 1963 working at the firm his grandfather and granduncle founded in 1917. He launched Cushman & Wakefield’s first office in Southern California, then broke away to form his own firm in 1978 with twin brother Louis Cushman before merging it with the old family firm in 2001. From there, including as global chairman, Cushman helped build Cushman & Wakefield into a global powerhouse.

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Three days earlier, Steven Fisher, a senior partner and principal at Fisher Brothers, died at 63 due to complications from a medical procedure. Fisher oversaw the firm with brother Kenneth Fisher and cousin Winston Fisher. During his 40 years there, he founded Fisher Capital Investments, the company’s venture capital firm, and helped turn the company’s construction management arm, Plaza Construction, into one of the city’s largest general contractors before selling it to the U.S. arm of China State Construction Engineering in 2014.

This was not the only loss for the Fishers over the past year. Steven Fisher’s father, Arnold Fisher, died in September at the age of 89 while being treated for cancer. Fisher had led the firm since his own father’s death in the early 2000s. Since then, Fisher was credited with developing 15 million square feet of commercial and residential property, and made extensive contributions to veterans causes through the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (Fisher himself was a Korean War veteran). This included the creation of the Center for the Intrepid rehabilitation center in San Antonio, Texas, and the National Intrepid Center for Excellence, a research and treatment facility for veterans with traumatic brain injuries and psychological conditions, in Bethesda, Md.

There were other notable deaths in the industry too during 2022 and early 2023.

Last April, Warren Estis, founding partner at the real estate law firm Rosenberg & Estis, died at 73. Estis co-founded the firm in 1975 with Gary Rosenberg, eventually building it into an 80-lawyer practice. In addition to managing and training the company’s trial attorneys and expanding the firm’s coverage areas to include leasing, construction, design and financing, Estis represented city landlords on a slew of issues. He often faced the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in court, as in 2006 when he secured an extra $35.2 million for DLR Properties after the agency attempted to take over and demolish one of its buildings.

In July, Will Friend, CEO of Bisnow, died in a lightning strike while on a boat off the coast of North Carolina. He was 33. A London native who moved to the U.S. at 15, Friend joined Bisnow out of college in 2010, and rose to CEO in 2014. His accomplishments included expanding Bisnow’s presence to over 50 markets across the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Ireland, and guiding the company through its 2016 sale to private equity firm The Wicks Group.

In August, Kevin Maggiacomo, president and CEO of SVN International Corporation, a commercial real estate franchiser and consultancy, died at age 50. He had been with the company since 2001 and was appointed chief executive in 2010. Under Maggiacomo’s leadership, SVN expanded from seven offices in the U.S. to more than 200 offices in eight countries with roughly 2,000 advisers, according to the company. In 2019, SVN acquired a 50 percent stake in Brooklyn-based brokerage CPEX Real Estate for its biggest foothold in New York City. The merged parties were rebranded SVN | CPEX.

This past February, Ted Lerner, founder of Rockville, Md.-based Lerner Enterprises and owner of the Washington Nationals baseball team, died at the age of 97 from complications of pneumonia. Over 60 years, Lerner built his company into one of the largest private developers in the U.S., controlling over 20 million square feet of shopping malls and housing. He made a significant mark on the retail landscape in 1962 with his development of Tysons Corner Center in Northern Virginia, one of the first large-scale malls, and one that would become a model for shopping malls as we know them today.

This March, Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly died at the age of 78. Viñoly designed major projects, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Tokyo International Forum, and the Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo, Uruguay. In New York, Viñoly designed 432 Park Avenue, which was the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere when it debuted in 2014, and also the yet-to-be-completed 125 Greenwich Street.

Then, in April, H. Dale Hemmerdinger, chairman of ATCO Properties and a former MTA chairman, died due to complications from post-COVID pneumonia at age 78. The Hemmerdinger family development firm was founded by his grandfather in 1922. Hemmerdinger took it over in 1967, at a time of some distress in the firm, and built it into a powerhouse that currently owns over 25 buildings throughout New York, Connecticut and Texas, in addition to investments in Europe. Hemmerdinger’s time atop the MTA coincided with the Global Financial Crisis and included the beginning of construction of the East Side Access tunnels directly connecting Grand Central Terminal and the Long Island Rail Road.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated with the correct age for Dale Hemmerdinger. He was 78 when he died, not 73.