Gerry Gunzburger, Husband Of Commissioner, Dies

The following obituary was written in part by Gerry Gunzburger a month before his death.  It was submitted to by the Gunzburger family. 

Following the obit is the e-mail Sue Gunzburger sent to her friends and associates announcing her husband’s death.

 Here it is without any editing:


Gerry Gunzburger,  retired businessman, chemist and husband of Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger, died Thursday around 5 p.m.


He was 77 years old.

Gunzburger was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1931. 

He came from a family of very cosmopolitan assimilated Jews a family which had lived in Germany for hundreds of years.  As the Nazi threats against the Jews grew, Gunzburger and his parents wisely fled Germany in late 1936. 

His grandmother and aunt, who opted instead to stay in Berlin, both perished in the Holocaust. 

 The family fled first to Denmark, but were detained on arrival at the airport, denied asylum, and forced to leave the country within one day.  Next came six months living in Norway, before eventually obtaining visas to live in France. 

The family arrived in Paris in 1937, and found safety there until the Nazis invaded France in 1940.  Separated from his father, Gunzburger and his mother were able to escape Paris on one of the last trains out of the city on June 13, 1940, just hours before the Nazi troops marched into the city the next morning.  The train was strafed by German fighter planes and forced to stop twice before reaching France’s western seacoast.

Gunzburger and his mother then hitchhiked south in a French Army truck in a mad dash to escape the advancing German troops.  When France surrendered to the Nazis, Gunzburger and his mother found themselves trapped on the German side of the lines.

A French Air Force officer helped smuggle them across the border the next day into unoccupied Vichy France.  After being reunited with his father, the family moved to the southern port city of Marseilles. 

Despite having a relative in the United States willing to act as the sponsor, the family was unable to obtain a visa to emigrate to the U.S., which strictly limited the number of European Jews allowed to seek safety here. 

Finally, after narrowly escaping arrest by the French Gestapo, Gunzburger was able to obtain Colombian visas for his entire family from the father of his best friend in parochial school.  The boy’s father was the Consul General of Colombia in Marseilles.

They arrived in Bogota, Colombia with just $300 and started rebuilding their lives. 

Gunzburger’s parents worked to create a clothing business, starting in their own home.  Gunzburger’s small bedroom doubled by day as the sewing machine room.  In time, the business became rather successful.  As for Gunzburger, he attended the nation’s top university — Universidad Nacional de Colombia — and earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

He also spent his free time in Colombia racing motorcycles and cars, winning several trophies in officially-sanctioned road races in the early 1950s.

Gunzburger then moved to the United States to attend graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He earned his Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering in 1955.  A few years later he earned his MBA degree from the University of Detroit.

After graduation, Gunzburger went to work for Wyandotte Chemicals outside of Detroit, Michigan.  Eventually, he was responsible for supervising all engineers at the large chemical manufacturing facility.  It was also while working there that he was named as a co-inventor on his first patent: a valuable new chemical process. 

His reward from the company: a handshake. It was the first of Gunzburger’s two U.S. patents and nine foreign patents.

While living in Detroit, he also attended a temple social event and met public school teacher Suzanne Nathan.  They were married in 1960 and celebrated their 49th anniversary just two weeks ago.

When told by a Wyandotte Chemicals corporate executive that he could not be promoted higher because he was Jewish, Gunzburger decided to look for new work in 1962. 

He accepted a position with the National Distillers chemical company in Connecticut and the same year became a United States citizen. It was at this new job that Gunzburger invented a plastic packaging film named “OPP, which largely made cellophane wrapping obsolete.  OPP became the world’s largest selling packaging material still used today for cookies and crackers.

National Distillers rewarded Gunzburger with $50 for the invention. 

“It was better than the handshake I got for my first invention, he liked to joke.

In 1966, Gunzburger and several engineer co-workers at the Connecticut plant pooled their savings to buy a very small, failing plastic bag manufacturing company in Hialeah named Smart-Pak. 

Soon after, Gunzburger and his family moved to South Florida.  Starting with a combined company capital of just $10,000, Gunzburger grew the company to $250,000 in sales the first year. 

In time, Gunzburger bought out all but one of his partners and purchased other plastics companies to grow the Smart-Pak operation.  The company which had relocated to a large facility in Aventura was generating over $14 million in business annually by the time Gunzburger sold Smart-Pak in 1990. 
Taking his extensive knowledge of the plastics industry, Gunzburger next started a plastics recycling company named Better Than Wood, Inc.  The new company converted used plastic bottles and other post-consumer products into compressed plastic lumber products.

“Recycling doesn’t work unless you complete the recycling loop, he frequently reminded people.  In time, he sold his interest in the recycling company and retired ten years ago.

Even Gunzburger’s retirement years saw a flurry of new activities.

He joined the Board of Directors of Temple Beth-El of Hollywood, and quickly was elevated to Treasurer.  It was at a time when the temple’s membership had hit an all-time low of roughly 200 families and was operating with a rapidly growing annual debt of $150,000. 

As Treasurer and then as President, Rabbi Alan Tuffs credits Gunzburger with “saving Temple Beth-El.  Gerry found ways to eliminate our annual debt, make the temple financially sound, grow the pre-school and religious school, and increase the membership to 450 families.

“He was a strong, brilliant and generous leader with a real vision for our temple’s future.  We would sometimes argue, and I like to say that I enjoyed arguing with Gerry more than I enjoy agreeing with most other people.  And, when we fought, it turned out Gerry was usually right 95% of the time, added Tuffs. 

Gunzburger and his wife also created a unique endowment at the temple which pays for every graduate of the temple’s 10th grade confirmation class to attend the two-week “March of the Living program of visits to Nazi death camps and a tour of holy sites in Israel.  

“Gerry was passionately committed to Holocaust education programs to ensure that genocide against any group never happens again.  He also was dedicated to preserving a strong State of Israel, said Tuffs.  “This endowment Gerry created achieves both goals.

Gunzburger, who has lived in Hollywood since 1968, also served on the City of Hollywood Charter Revision Board for the past two years.  He was also frequently at the side of his wife Sue as she campaigned successfully first for the Hollywood City Commission and later for the Broward County Commission. 

“He was my strongest supporter, encouraging me every step of the way in anything I wanted to pursue, said his wife.  

“He would drive with Mom to her campaign and speaking events each evening, even if he then sat there and worked on crossword puzzles as Mom spoke, said son Ron.  “But he always wanted to be with Mom every night.  Despite their busy schedules, they tried to have breakfast and dinner together at home nearly every day for the past 49 years.

In addition to his wife, Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger of Hollywood, Gunzburger is also survived by three children (Ron Gunzburger of Fort Lauderdale; Cindy Katz of Syosset, NY; and Judy Gunzburger of Hollywood) and three grandchildren (Emily, Joshua and Jacob Katz of Syosset, New York).

The memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m., on Sunday, April 26, at Temple Beth-El of Hollywood. 


 In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that contributions be made to the “Gunzburger L’Dor V’Dor Fund at Temple Beth-El of Hollywood, 1351 S. 14th Avenue, Hollywood, Florida 33020.  The fund supports programs in the temple’s Gunzburger School of Religious Studies.


Sent: Thu Apr 23 18:32:46 2009
Subject: Message from Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger
From: Suzanne Gunzburger <
Sent: Thu Apr 23 18:11:45 2009
Dear All,
I have just lost my beloved husband Gerry today after a short illness. We were together 49 wonderful years.  The services will be Sunday, March 29, at 1:00 P.M. at Temple Beth El,  1351 S. 14th Avenue, Hollywood Fl.  We shall be sitting Shiva through Tuesday evening, from 2 until 9 P.M.


Sue and Gerry Gunzburger













4 Responses to “Gerry Gunzburger, Husband Of Commissioner, Dies”

  1. Sam Fields says:

    I worked with him at BTW promoting the use of recycling post consumer plastic by melting and extruding it to replace lumber. The idea saved trees, the environment and created products that will last for generations. Fifty years from now the boardwalk in West Lake Park will look as good as the day it was installed.

    Jerry was self-effacing and self assured. As his obituary pointed out by the time he was a teenager he had gone through more horrors than few of us will see in a lifetime.
    I suspect it gave him a perspective that just about anything else the world throws at you is small stuff.

    Although he had left German 60 years before I used to kid him about the accent which still sounded like he had just gotten off the boat. He always had some wry response.

    Jerry will be missed.

  2. Sam Fields says:

    P.S. Jerry’s response was to explain to me that he did not have an accent. It was all of us that had one

  3. Very Sad says:

    I am so sorry for Sue G and her family. He sounds like a wonderful man.

  4. Deja Emfinger says:

    Hi! It reminded me a joke i’ve heard yesterday. As the moral is simply the same! =) A guy in his forties purchased a brand new Porsche and was out on the interstate just for a nice night ride. The top was off, the wind was swaying via what was left of his hair and man decided to open her up. Since the hook hopped around eighty mph, he suddenly saw blinking red and blue lights behind him. “There’s not a way they could capture this auto!,” he thought to himself and opened her up further. The hook hit 90, hundred…. Next the fact of the problem hit him. “What a hell am I doing?” he said and pulled over. The policeman came up to him, required his license without having any phrase and reviewed it and also the car. “It is been a long evening, this is the end of my personal shift and it’s Friday the 13th. I don’t really feel like much more paperwork, so in case it is possible to give me a good excuse for the driving which I haven’t heard before, you can go.” The man thinks about for a moment and says, “Last week my spouse went off with a cop. I was scared you was trying to give her back.” “Have a good weekend,” says the police officer.