RIP Don Fisher

Don Fisher

By SARAH SKIDMORE, AP Retail Writer Sarah Skidmore, Ap Retail Writer Sun Sep 27, 5:41 pm ET

PORTLAND, Ore. – Donald G. Fisher, who co-founded clothing retailer Gap Inc., has died at age 81 after a long battle with cancer.

The company said Fisher died at his home in San Francisco on Sunday morning.

After struggling to find jeans that fit, Fisher and his wife opened their first store in 1969 in San Francisco, selling jeans and music under a name based on the idea of “The Generation Gap.” The simple style that became the namesake brand’s trademark resonated with shoppers and took off quickly.

A former real estate developer with no previous retailing experience, Fisher initially anticipated maybe “as many as 10” stores. But Gap grew to be one of the nation’s largest specialty retailers with more than 3,000 stores in over 25 countries.

Gap Inc. now also operates the Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta brands. It became a publicly traded company in 1976 and reported sales of $14.5 billion in its 2008 fiscal year.

Fisher guided the company through its largest growth phases, serving as CEO from the company’s inception through 1995 and as its chairman until 2004. He continued as a company director and as chairman emeritus until his death.

“Today we lost a friend, a mentor and a great visionary,” Glenn Murphy, CEO and chairman of Gap Inc. said in a statement. “Don and Doris took a simple idea and turned it into a brand recognized as a cultural icon throughout the world and changed the face of retail forever.”

An avid art collector and charter school advocate, Fisher was well known for his commitment to philanthropy and the San Francisco Bay community where he was born and raised and the company’s headquarters still remain.

The Fishers‘ personal art collection includes some of the 20th century’s most well-known artists, including Richard Diebenkorn, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art said Friday it was partnering with the Fishers to house the couple’s some 1,100 works to create one of the nation’s greatest art collections.

Don Fisher was active in the United Way, Teach for America and other educational efforts. The Fishers gave $15 million in 2000 to create the KIPP Foundation, a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools to serve students in underserved communities. They have provided millions more to support the organization through the years.

“Don’s contributions to public education, particularly for underserved communities, cannot be overestimated,” said KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth. “He used what he learned in growing Gap Inc. to show us what we could do in public education, and tens of thousands of children have benefited from his commitment and generosity.”

Fisher is survived by his wife Doris, their three sons and 10 grandchildren. He is also survived by two brothers and their wives, Jim and Diane Fisher and Bob and Ann Fisher.

His son Bob Fisher continues to serve on Gap’s board of directors and Doris serves as an honorary lifetime member of the board.

Bob Fisher said his father was an “inspiration to many people in his dedication to his business and through his enthusiasm and commitment to philanthropic efforts.”

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