Former Travelers CEO Jay Fishman dies at 63 after ALS battle

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Former Travelers Group insurance company chief executive Jay Fishman, who became a national advocate for research into Lou Gehrig's disease after being diagnosed with it, died at his home in New Jersey on Friday. He was 63.

Fishman became CEO of Travelers' predecessor company in 1998 and assumed the same title after the merger of The St. Paul Cos. Inc. with Travelers Property Casualty Corp. in 2004.

He was diagnosed in 2014 with a form of Lou Gehrig's disease, a terminal neurodegenerative condition also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. He stepped down as CEO last December but had stayed on as executive chairman of the board.

A company spokesman announced Fishman's death following his battle with ALS.

Fishman spearheaded philanthropic efforts related to ALS research. He served as co-chairman of the PGA Tour's recent Travelers Championship golf tournament, which was held in Cromwell, Connecticut, and whose main charitable beneficiary was a Connecticut hospital that provides care to ALS patients.

The man who succeeded Fishman at Travelers, Alan Schnitzer, called him an "icon among corporate leaders."

The disease that afflicted Fishman is named for Lou Gehrig, one of the New York Yankees' greatest players. Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games, earning the nickname The Iron Horse. He retired after being affected by ALS, and he died in 1941 at age 37.

Fishman helped fund a national project that is gathering information from hundreds of ALS patients to try to better understand the variations of the disease and how to fight it.

He raised money for a Boston Children's Hospital project that banks the voices of ALS patients so that when the patients lose the ability to speak they can use computers that will speak for them in their own voices. He and his wife recently gave $3 million to fund a University of Pennsylvania project that helps patients with at-home respiratory care.

"You can be a skeptic and say, 'Well, the only reason he's doing it is that he has the disease,'" Fishman said in June. "The answer is, 'Yeah, of course.' If not me, then who? If I'm not going to reflect all the good things that have happened to me in my life and find a way to plow that back to help people deal with what I personally know is a horrible disease, then shame on me."

Read more about Jay Fishman: Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes

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