Albert Sherman relished his behind-the-scenes role persuading politicians on Beacon Hill and in the nation’s capital to keep sending funding to the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
“Much of my success is due to staying under the radar,” he told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in 2013 when the Albert Sherman Center, a $400 million research facility in Worcester named in his honor, officially opened. “Better to be the kingmaker than the king.”
Known as Albie to many top elected officials and to countless less exalted others he helped along the way, Mr. Sherman was 81 when he died at home Monday in the Newton part of Chestnut Hill.
His official title at UMass Medical School was vice chancellor for university relations, but his role there, in political circles, and within the Commonwealth’s Jewish community was far more expansive.
“Albie knew and understood that politics was all about helping people. And he always found a way, whether he knew you or not, to make sure that if you needed help, help would arrive,” said Robert Travaglini, a former state Senate president.
“He built a network of friendships and established such a reputation in this profession that whoever he called would pick up the phone,” Travaglini added. “That is not easy to do.”
In an e-mail, former governor Deval Patrick called Mr. Sherman “an important political mentor to me (and many others), in my case taking a novice under his wing, introducing me around to people by distinguishing between the self-important and the ones who get stuff done, and never once reacting cynically to my big ideas.”
Along with his work at UMass, Mr. Sherman for years led delegations of Massachusetts politicians and high-ranking officials from businesses and universities on visits to Israel.
He had grown up in Boston’s Grove Hall neighborhood and had formed lifelong friendships with those prominent in the city’s Irish-American and Italian-American communities.
“There was no one like Albie, a unique personality uniquely able to relate to every ethnic group and to government at every level,” said Barry Shrage, former president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. “We won’t be able to replace him, and we’ll miss him.”
Those whom Mr. Sherman knew and those he helped essentially became part of an extended family that reached from the neighborhoods of his youth — he liked to say he grew up in “Dorchester and Roxbury and Mattapan,” compressing them in a part of his biography — to the cities of Israel.
A son of Ukrainian immigrants, “he was an extraordinarily playful, warm, and affectionate father, but he was that way with everybody,” said his daughter, Risa of Needham.
Mr. Sherman “had a great sense of humor,” Patrick wrote. “He made a lot of politics fun and funny.”
Risa added that her father also “had the most fierce sense of justice of anybody I knew. He wanted all people to have everything they needed.”
To that end, when Mr. Sherman “got something in his head, he would just call and call and speak with great enthusiasm,” said Seth Gitell, chief of staff to Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and former press secretary to the late Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino.
“Whether it was an issue large or small, he would give the subject his full attention and make an insistent beeline to the person he needed to talk to,” Gitell said.
For Mr. Sherman, family and friends said, there was no dividing line between what he did for pay and what he did because it was the right thing to do.
“He would say, ‘It’s all personal,’ ” said his son Matthew of Los Angeles. “That’s not necessarily the case in business all the time, but to him it was.”
Risa recalled that their father “had this credo that he raised us with, which is, ‘No person stands taller than when they stoop to help another.’ ”
Born in 1938, Albert Sherman was a son of Benjamin Sherman and Gertrude Karass, both of whom came to Boston from Ukraine.
Mr. Sherman’s older brother, Cambridge District Court Judge Arthur Sherman, recalled upon his retirement that their parents made many sacrifices to ensure their children could be educated.
“It’s been a long way from Grove Hall,” Judge Sherman, who died in 2014, said at a testimonial dinner in 1998.
Albert Sherman graduated from English High School and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, and he served in the Army Reserve.
A pharmacist early in his career, he worked in drugstores and owned or co-owned a few pharmacies as well. Among those he eventually employed was his father, who initially had been a laborer upon arriving in Boston, and who later owned rental properties.
Switching from running pharmacies to working for hospitals and universities, Mr. Sherman was in operations and materials management for Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton, his family said, and then became director of special services for Boston University Medical Center.
That led him to work for Boston University as associate vice president for development — planning special projects and bringing them to fruition.
Mr. Sherman went to UMass Medical Center in 1989, where he was “a one-of-a-kind character that the modern world doesn’t have as many of anymore,” said Richard J. Stanton, a former UMass Medical School deputy chancellor who is now associate vice chancellor for administration and finance at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“People complain about modern politics — that it’s gotten away from relationships,” Stanton said. “Albie came from a world where relationships were everything. Albie nurtured those relationships and he stayed in conversation with people. It was that ability to keep everybody talking that allowed things to happen.”
In 1963, Mr. Sherman married Linda H. Gross, who had grown up in Hull and whom he had met on Nantasket Beach. The Shermans formerly lived for many years in the Brookline part of Chestnut Hill, before moving to the Newton part.
In addition to his wife, his daughter, Risa, and his son, Matthew, Mr. Sherman leaves another son, Peter of Newton, and three grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at noon Wednesday in Temple Emeth in Brookline, where Mr. Sherman had been chief usher for more than 40 years.
“Albie was very proudly Jewish,” Matthew said. “Everybody knew that he went to temple every Saturday.”
Mr. Sherman, who served for many years on the state Public Health Council, devoted time to numerous boards over the decades, including those of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, the Anti-Defamation League, the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research, the New England-Israel Chamber of Commerce, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, which in 2007 honored him with its first Lifetime Achievement Award.
“He was a real friend who knew how to do a favor,” Travaglini said. “And I don’t use favor as a bad word. Unfortunately, sometimes today that’s the interpretation. Not for Albie Sherman. He didn’t even have to know you. If somebody called for help, he picked up the phone.”
Travaglini added that Mr. Sherman “was an honorable man who helped a lot of people. More than half the time, he did things and he did them anonymously. Nobody knew he did it.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.