David Ganz could be brought to tears by a documentary about socially conscious middle school students and stirred to swift action by the plight of a colleague.
“He was passionate, and he used that word a lot,” said his wife, Judith. “He was passionate about his business, about his family, about his flying, and everything was done to perfection.”
The planes he flew were outfitted so that each safety device had a backup, a response to his experience as a 21-year-old, when he rescued a flight instructor from the burning wreckage of a helicopter. A half century later, a documentary about a Tennessee school project on the Holocaust inspired Mr. Ganz to place the film in as many classrooms as possible.
“This film, if we can get it into the schools, can change the world,” he told the Globe in 2005.
Mr. Ganz, who expanded his family’s business and renamed it Galaxy tires, died in his Belmont home Oct. 21 of melanoma that had metastasized. He was 81.
“Paper Clips,” the 2004 documentary that inspired Mr. Ganz, was about eighth-graders at Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tenn., a community of fewer than 2,000. For a class project in 1998, students decided to collect one paper clip for each of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Media attention resulted in the students collecting about 30 million paper clips, and German journalists helped bring to Tennessee a train car that had transported people to Nazi concentration camps. The car became a museum housing the paper clips, along with a suitcase filled with notes German students wrote, apologizing to Anne Frank.
Mr. Ganz “was so taken with the film that he spoke with the director and producer and said, ‘I really think we should get this into schools,’ ” said his wife, who had chaired the board of the Boston Jewish Film Festival, where Mr. Ganz saw the film the first of many times.
He contacted the principal at the Tennessee school to donate scholarships to students and then visited the middle school. Mr. Ganz even rented a West Newton movie theater for a night to show the film free to 200 teachers and community members in Greater Boston.
Through other philanthropic endeavors, Mr. Ganz was involved with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, and organizations that support the Marine Corps, which he had joined after college.
“He tells the story that he was marching one day with a 50-pound pack on his back and after a 50-mile hike, he looked up and saw planes flying overhead,” his wife said. “He got back to the base and said to his commander, ‘How do I get up there?’ ”
During training in a helicopter, an instructor was demonstrating a landing maneuver when the craft crashed and tumbled, according to an account on the website of JINSA — the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, an organization for which Mr. Ganz was a past president. Mr. Ganz escaped before the wreckage exploded, then raced back into the flames to pull out his instructor, who was trapped and severely hurt. For the bravery, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the highest noncombat heroism honor in those military branches.
“When he went into the burning plane, he didn’t think twice about his own safety,” his wife said.
During his years with his family’s business, Mr. Ganz owned planes at various times, his wife said, and he flew for pleasure and on business trips. “He loved it,” she added. “He found it to be very relaxing.”
The middle of three brothers, Mr. Ganz was born in Chelsea and moved with his family to Allston, Brighton, and then Newton, where he graduated from high school.
His parents, Louis and the former Pauline Sidman, worked in the family tire business.
Mr. Ganz graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in business. While there, he participated in the Marines’ platoon leaders course, traveling by train to Parris Island in South Carolina for summer training.
Upon graduating, he served in the Marines for five years, including several months in Lebanon. While stationed at the Marine base in Quantico, Va., he met Judith Levin on a blind date. They married in 1956.
After he was discharged, Mr. Ganz worked in the insurance business in the Washington, D.C., area, but “his family wanted him to go into the tire business,” his wife said. “He felt an obligation.”
He eventually changed the Malden company’s name from Ganz to Galaxy as he expanded into new areas before it became part of Alliance Tire several years ago. His work ethic was such that he arrived at the office at 3:30 a.m. when needed for calls with potential clients on the other side of the world. “He had that kind of commitment and passion about the business,” said Domenic Mazzola, a vice president at Alliance Tire.
Mr. Ganz also worked with companies to design tires specifically for a particular industry, such as agriculture, Mazzola said. “The thing he absolutely loved was to go to a customer, see what they were doing, and come up with something better than what they were using,” Mazzola said.
Mr. Ganz “was a natural leader, the kind of guy who, when he was there, people understood that you followed David,” said David Steinmann, chairman of the board of advisers and past president of JINSA. “He was a builder. If he got involved, or he created something himself, he made something of it. He made it better, he made it bigger.”
A service has been held for Mr. Ganz, who in addition to his wife leaves three sons, Bryan of Weston, Neil of Danville, Calif., and Eric of New York City; a brother, Sheldon of Framingham; and five grandchildren, including his grandson, Alexander, who graduated from West Point this year. Mr. Ganz pinned the officer’s bars on his grandson during the graduation ceremony.
Mr. Ganz “had a really extraordinary ability to connect to people,” Steinmann said. “He was just really good at understanding people, and people loved him.”
People also turned to Mr. Ganz for guidance. “He loved tires and would always tell me, ‘Do something that you love to do. Don’t worry about the money. If you love what you’re doing, and you’re good at it, the money will come later,’ ” Mazzola said. “That’s advice that I give to my kids today.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard @globe.com.