Elliot J. Stone, 92; aided charity, led Jordan Marsh

Elliot Stone was chief executive at Jordan Marsh from 1979 to 1988.
Elliot Stone was chief executive at Jordan Marsh from 1979 to 1988.

Retail executive Elliot J. Stone was as much a part of Jordan Marsh as the venerable department store chain’s famous blueberry muffins.

When Mr. Stone retired as president and chief executive in 1988, retail analysts sensed the end of an era. “Jordan Marsh was Mr. Stone, and vice versa,” the publisher of the Retail Marketing Report told the Globe at the time.

Mr. Stone, a Boston native and philanthropist who spent more than 40 years in retail management, including four years as president and chief operating officer of Gimbels stores, died Jan. 27 in Palm Beach, Fla., of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 92 and a former longtime resident of Newton.


“He was an extraordinarily creative leader. He was also an incredibly decent and beautiful man,” said Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, where Mr. Stone served on the board.

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During the economic downturn in New England in the late 1980s, Mr. Stone helped CJP weather hard times, Shrage recalled.

“He led a committee of very strong people and helped CJP figure out a way to get through the bad spot, expand the services we have, and be financially stable,” he said.

A graduate of Brookline High who studied at Clark University, Mr. Stone was the middle child of three boys born to Maurice and Ann.

He began his career in retail after serving in World War II with the 101st Airborne Division, according to his family. In 1945, Mr. Stone entered the executive training program of the downtown Boston store R. H. White’s. He spent six years as a buyer in the boys’ wear department.


He married Boston native Marion (Goldberg) in 1943 and they had two daughters.

In 1952, Mr. Stone moved his family to Pittsburgh for an opportunity to climb the ranks at Gimbels. He spent 18 years there before taking a job with Maas Brothers stores based in Tampa, where he worked for several years.

“Our dad worked long hours and traveled extensively for business, but he was a very present father. He used to write poems for my sister and me — often writing short ones on the chalkboard she had in her room before we went to bed,” recalled his daughter Diane Goldman, of Florida, in an e-mail.

“We wanted to do well and live by his high standards: not that he articulated, but he that he lived by example. We never wanted to disappoint him. He was extremely moral, disciplined, and hard-working. He never doubted that he could accomplish what he set out to do and expected the same of those around him,” she said.

In 1972, Jordan Marsh recruited Mr. Stone to become executive vice president for merchandising and sales.


He was a longtime member of the Boston Coordinating Committee, which was better known by its nickname, The Vault. The committee of prominent bankers, lawyers, and businessmen began meeting in the late 1950s in a boardroom near the vault of the old Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Co. and were influential liaisons between the business community and state leaders.

In 1975, Gimbel Brothers Inc. lured Mr. Stone away from Jordan Marsh. He was named president and chief operating officer of the department store giant, and went back to Pittsburgh.

Four years later, Jordan Marsh’s owner Allied Stores Corp. convinced Mr. Stone to return to Boston as head of the New England chain.

While at the helm of Jordan Marsh, Mr. Stone was described as an imaginative marketer, though not all of the store’s campaigns were hits. A “Jack and Jill” ad campaign featuring a young, wealthy professional couple fell flat, the Globe reported.

Mr. Stone had more success repositioning the chain as a clothing store for working women. He closed out Jordan Marsh’s appliances division and custom upholstery services to focus on women’s wear.

In 1981, he discussed improvement efforts at the Boston store and the challenges of bringing suburban shoppers downtown.

“We have to keep it updated and vital and make important statements in our merchandise to show that we back what we believe in, so that the customer maintains confidence in us,’’ Mr. Stone told The New York Times then.

In 1988, he launched a two-week cultural promotion known as “The Land of Israel,” featuring $2 million in Israeli-made goods, live performances, and exhibits. The event was born out of a trade agreement Massachusetts leaders inked with Israel.

Mr. Stone also oversaw a Jordan Marsh campaign in 1982 promoting goods from China dubbed “Orient Express’d.” According to his family, he had participated in a historic visit to China in 1972 with a group of retail executives.

He retired from Jordan Marsh after a Canadian investment company acquired the chain in a deal that eventually proved the death knell for the Jordan Marsh name. Jordan Marsh stores all became Macy’s by 1996.

Mr. Stone spent his retirement supporting his favorite charities and playing golf at Pine Brook Country Club in Weston and Banyan Golf Club in West Palm Beach. He served on the board of both clubs.

He loved big family weddings and bar mitzvahs. “He took great pride and joy in his family,” his daughter Diane said.

In addition to his wife and daughter Diane Goldman, Mr. Stone leaves his brother, Robert of Barrington, R.I.; another daughter, Marcia Finsterwald of Virginia; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

A memorial service is planned for June in Boston.

J.M. Lawrence can be reached at