Leading Chicago Jewish philanthropist James Crown dies in racetrack crash

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JTA – James Crown, a Chicago billionaire and major donor to Jewish causes, died Sunday in a crash at a racetrack in Colorado while celebrating his 70th birthday.

His sudden death at the Aspen Motorsports Park drew immediate eulogies and condolences from Chicago’s Jewish leaders as well as US President Joe Biden, former US President Barack Obama, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and others.

Crown headed his family’s investment firm Henry Crown and Company, which is named after James’ grandfather. He also served on the boards of JPMorgan and General Dynamics. Forbes estimated the Crown family’s wealth at $10.2 billion in 2020.

The Pitkin County coroner’s office announced the death in a press release, saying that Crown suffered blunt-force trauma after his car struck a wall at the race track.

A leading philanthropist in Chicago, Crown had recently launched a fight by local business leaders against violent crime in the city.

His charitable legacy is tied up with that of the larger Crown family, who are known as prominent backers of various Chicago charities, Jewish institutions and Democratic party politics. The Crown name adorns a range of institutions across the city.

James’ 98-year-old-father Lester Crown called his son “the leader of our family both intellectually and emotionally” in an interview Monday in the Chicago Sun-Times. James is one of seven children born to Lester and Renee Crown.

Among those shaken by news of the fatal accident was Lonnie Nasatir, who heads Chicago’s Jewish United Fund and knows the Crown family well.

“It’s a loss for the Jewish people. It’s a loss for the [Chicago] Jewish community. And for our city of Chicago. It’s just a great loss because this was a really creative mind who had so much business experience and understood our city and understood our community,” Nasatir told eJewish Philanthropy.

Nasatir also recalled that Crown mobilized to help Jewish charities when the pandemic began and threatened the future of Jewish communal infrastructure.

“He was really concerned about taking care of the Jewish ecosystem at this perilous time,” Nasatir told eJP. “I remember we had several conversations about what we can do to make sure that we can stabilize Jewish overnight camps, day schools and early childhood centers.”

In a statement released following the death, President Biden said Crown represented “America at its best – industrious, big-hearted, and always looking out for each other. He was a good man, a dear friend, and a great American.”

Chicago’s mayor, meanwhile, said, “With his generosity, Crown embodied the soul of Chicago.”

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