Sam Seymour Margolin

February 8, 1910 to April 22, 1995 (85 years)

from jhsmem

Bio by Dr. Selma Lewis

Three peaks, each representing a separate pinnacle of achievement, dominate the biography of Memphian Sam Margolin. In chronological order they are the establishment of the Southern Law School in 1932; the founding of National Mortgage Company in 1951; and the creation of a Jewish Day School, renamed on December 1, 1991: the Margolin Hebrew Academy / Yeshiva of the South. Each peak adds significantly to the community.

Sam Margolin was born in 1910 to immigrant parents who had been part of the great wave of migration from Russia in 1905. His father Raphael came first, sending for the rest of the family when he could afford their transportation. Like many others, Raphael Margolin peddled with a horse and wagon. Never in good health, he died at an early age, leaving his wife with five children whom she supported by taking in roomers at their home on Adams Street.

After graduation from high school in 1923, Sam Margolin went to work for a former Memphis newspaper, The Press Scimitar, in its advertising department. At the same time he attended the University of Memphis Law School at night, graduating three years later at the age of eighteen at the head of his class. He set up a legal practice, but within a short time some friends and students asked him to open a night law school, which he did, operating it until it merged with the Memphis State University Law School in 1964, graduating over 1,000 lawyers during its existence.

When the Southern Law School started in 1932, accreditation hinged on the performance of the first ten students on their mandatory state bar examinations. Coached by Margolin, all ten passed, and the school was accredited. Throughout its history the school was regarded as “second to none in percentage of graduates who passed the bar exam on the first try.” The faculty was comprised of practicing attorneys, including, but not limited to Joseph Bearman, Herschel Feibelman, Sam Myar, Jr., Al H. Thomas, Judge Irving Strauch, Judge Greenfield Polk and, of course, Sam Margolin. Speaking of the school, Margolin said, “The Southern Law School meant a great deal to me. I knew that there were many others, like me, who would never have the opportunity of becoming lawyers unless they could study in the evenings after working all day. I realized that the standards of evening classes had to be elevated so that the general public would have a greater respect for the graduates. I know that my mother would be pleased to know that on the site of her rooming house, a fine school offers opportunity to men and women to elevate their positions in life.”

Margolin was recognized in the courts as a gifted speaker and his lectures at Southern Law School were recognized as among the best in the profession. Over the years, he has been a sought-after speaker on behalf of the Hebrew Day School movement and Orthodox Judaism. In 1954, a Jewish soldier stationed in Greenville, Miss. was accused of murdering a fellow soldier in Memphis, was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death. Later, after the Governor had commuted the sentence to 99 years, Margolin twice went before the West Tennessee parole board on the soldier’s behalf. It was Margolin’s second eloquent plea before the board that was instrumental in getting the sentence reduced and winning the man’s freedom. In 1945, when Ben and Joe Margolin decided to leave their respective businesses and embark together upon a construction business venture, Sam decided to join them. After becoming Memphis’ largest home builders, the Margolin brothers established the National Mortgage Company in 1951, specializing in home mortgages. Ben died in 1975; Joe in 1985, leaving Sam the sole surviving brother of the original three partners. All of them have descendants, however, who participate in the three generation business. Since its inception, National Mortgage Company has grown to a company servicing approximately $14 billion of single family residential loans and the number of employees has grown from 3 persons in 1951 to over 900 persons in Aug., 1993. As part of a growth and expansion plan, a new 82,000 square foot building, which will accommodate 500 employees, has just been completed. Today, National Mortgage Company is one of the largest independent, privately owned mortgage companies in the United States and is the 25th largest mortgage company in the country.

The Margolin brothers helped found the Memphis Hebrew Academy in 1949, and their families have continued to contribute “time, money, and efforts” on behalf of the school, Sam Chafetz, president of the school said when he announced that the name had been changed to become the Margolin Hebrew Academy/Yeshiva of the South on December 1, 1992. (Two schools, the Memphis Hebrew Academy and the Yeshiva of the South were merged in about 1987 to form the current school, which includes pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade and serves over 200 students.) Sam Margolin served as chairman of the board of the Memphis Hebrew Academy for many years. He believes that the Jewish Day School Margolin Hebrew Academy-Yeshiva of the South movement, started after the Holocaust, is the most dynamic religious development in the United States. He credits it with the success of the Orthodox movement in Memphis which, he says, “has prospered in direct relation to its support of the day school movement.” He also believes it is reflected in the size of the Orthodox community in the city, because “Memphis attracts people because of the Orthodox facilities that are available.”

Margolin served as president of Baron Hirsch Synagogue. in the 1950's... He purchased a “second” home across the street from the synagogue for his family’s use and occupancy on religious holidays and every Sabbath. The Sam Margolin family, including children, grandchildren and guests moved into the “Shabbos House” each weekend for approximately twenty years to attend services at their synagogue. The Shabbos House was sold when the synagogue moved to an east Memphis location.

Sam Margolin along with his wife, Rose raised four daughters, have 17 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren. In 1993, at age 83, “Uncle Sam” as he is affectionately called by family and friends alike, celebrated his second Bar Mitzvah. His wife, Rose, and their family presented him with a Torah scroll completed at their home by the scribe from Israel who was commissioned to write this Torah. The celebration culminated in a procession carrying the Torah from the Margolin home to baron Hirsch Synagogue.

Responding to the naming of the school in honor of his family, Margolin remarked that he and his brothers had been resigned to the fact that there would be no continuity of the family name because they had no male heirs. But now, “the Margolin name is associated with an institution of greatness in our community.”

Of the many achievements of his. fruitful career, Margolin would probably choose the last as the most vital, giving him the most personal satisfaction. He has said: “From where will come the future leaders of our people...if not from our children, who have been properly trained in the ideals of Judaism and Americanism, _ Jewish mothers and Jewish laymen must come to know the beauty and sincerity of traditional Judaism through actual practice and knowledge. Only in such an institution as the Memphis Hebrew Academy can such training be attained.”


Sam S. Margolin, a prominent Memphis civic leader, a pioneer in the Hebrew day school movement and former head of National Mortgage Co., died Saturday of heart failure at Baptist Memorial Hospital East. He was 85. Mr. Margolin was the last of three brothers who founded National Mortgage in 1951 and raised it to be one of the nation's five largest privately owned mortgage banking firms. In January, Boatmen's Bancshares Inc. of St. Louis acquired National Mortgage Co. At the time, National Mortgage had a $13.1 billion loan servicing portfolio and a network of 10 loan offices and 300 loan correspondents in the Southern and Midwest states. Mr. Margolin was chairman emeritus of the company and still went to work daily, said his grandson, Joel R. Katz, now the company's president and chief executive. Brothers Ben, Joe and Sam Margolin started out in construction but quickly learned financing homes could be profitable, Katz said. ''So they jumped into that business.'' The local branch of the National Conference of Christians and Jews planned to honor Mr. Margolin on June 1 with the 1995 Humanitarian Award. Services will be at 3 p.m. today at Margolin Hebrew Academy, 390 S. White Station Road, followed by burial at Baron Hirsch Cemetery. Canale Funeral Directors has charge. "He was truly a leader of men in this community," Katz said. "He was vigorous. Working with him quite honestly is the highlight of the last seven years of my life. He had a marvelous sense of leadership, great instincts in business and a generous sense of compassion . . . He was just a very well-balanced person." Mr. Margolin was a role model for his grandson, an avid golfer and a devoutly religious person. He and his brothers founded Memphis Hebrew Academy in 1949. The school changed its name in 1991 to the Margolin Hebrew Academy-Yeshiva of the South. "He was greatly dedicated to every aspect of Jewish life, particularly Jewish education," said Rabbi Rafael Grossman, senior rabbi of Baron Hirsch Congregation and president of the Rabbinical Council of America. "He was greatly loved by everyone." In December, Baron Hirsch Synogogue honored its past president with the Sam Abraham Man of the Year Award. Mr. Margolin also founded the former Southern Law Academy, which later merged with Memphis State University (now University of Memphis). Mr. Margolin was born Feb. 8, 1910, in Memphis, one of five children born to parents who immigrated from Russia in 1905. Mr. Margolin graduated from South Side High in 1929, then attended night law school in Memphis until he graduated in 1929. He practiced law from 1929 to 1948. Mr. Margolin also leaves three daughters, Emily Rabinowitz of Manchester, England, Sylvia Weissmann of Memphis, and Gerry Fink of Memphis, and 17 grandchildren and 30 great-granchildren. The family requests that any memorials be sent to the Margolin Hebrew Academy or to the Memphis Community Kollel. (Published in The Commercial Appeal 4/23/1995)

Sam Margolin with his Torah in the procession to Baron Hirsch Congregation Sam Margolin
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