(Sun Sentinel) Jack Shifrel, who spent decades as an advocate for his fellow veterans and a champion of Democratic Party values and candidates, died Friday. He was 72.
South Florida political leaders said Shifrel’s death would leave a void in the community.
“Jack Shifrel was a patriot. He served his country. He served his community. He was dedicated to helping veterans, and helping common men and women succeed in our country,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-West Boca. Deutch represents Coconut Creek, where Mr. Shifrel lived.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, knew Shifrel for about 30 years. “Jack Shifrel was one of a kind,” she said. “It’s going to be a more hollow world without Jack Shifrel.”
Shifrel, a Vietnam-era Army veteran, and his wife, Laurie, moved to South Florida in 1970. He worked in marketing and was a governmental relations and political consultant. He served on the Broward School Board from 1980 to 1982.
Wasserman Schultz said Shifrel “first and foremost put veterans as his top priority.” Deutch said Shifrel believed strongly that Americans’ political freedoms “are available to us only because of the sacrifice that the men and women who served our country made for us.”
Shifrel served as president of the Broward Veterans Coalition, an umbrella organization made up of veterans groups, individual veterans and active-duty service members.
He played a major role in securing safer access to the William “Bill” Kling Veterans Affairs Clinic in Sunrise after a veteran who took a bus to the clinic was killed trying to cross busy West Commercial Boulevard in 2014. Shifrel’s advocacy helped lead to a program under which the county’s paratransit service provided discount rides to and from the clinic, even to those who are not disabled. He also pushed for installation of signs on major roadways directing motorists to the clinic.
Shifrel, who was also involved in charity fundraising, was inducted into the Broward Senior Hall of Fame in 2016.
Shifrel was serving his 10th four-year term as a Democratic Party committeeman, was the Coconut Creek-Margate area leader for the Broward Democratic Party for many years, and was a past president of the Margate Democratic Club. Shifrel was a delegate to five Democratic national conventions, and was especially energized when he was supporting the presidential candidacies of Bill or Hillary Clinton.
His lifelong passion for Democratic candidates and policies was inspired by former President John F. Kennedy, Shifrel’s brother said. His first political involvement was as a 22-year-old working on then-U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign, Shifrel said in a 2018 interview.
In a 1996 letter to the editor, Shifrel said he was proud to wear the label liberal.
“Liberals believe in the very simple promise of what I call our collective responsibility. In other words, we are our brother's keeper. We, as a society, have a responsibility to care for and look after each other,” he wrote. “I'm sick of being demonized by self-righteous right wing zealots who would force our children to pray in school and prohibit a woman from making her own choice regarding her pregnancy, but would allow any kook who wants a handgun or assault weapon to go unchecked.”
Shifrel was critical of the turn — “ridiculously extreme to the right” — the Republican Party took in the latter years of his life. In a 2012 interview, he said New Deal and Great Society programs like Social Security and Medicare had to be protected.
He advocated for LGBT rights — long before it became widely accepted by most Democrats, said Mitch Ceasar, the former longtime chairman of the Broward Democratic Party.
Ceasar and Shifrel occasionally butted heads over the years. “His greatest fun would be to have a philosophical discussion,” Ceasar said. “He didn’t seek somebody in agreement. It was much more enjoyable if he found someone who disagreed with him. He liked the debate.”
Although he was a lifelong Democrat, Shifrel’s friendships extended across the political aisle. When his daughter wrote a Jan. 21 Facebook post that Shifrel had entered Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton, the dozens of visitors and online well-wishers included many members of the GOP. Republican Mark O’Loughlin called him “a great man.”
Shifrel had many heart problems over the years, including several heart attacks. “The man stood down the most dire health threats. He had nerves of steel, and iron will. I think what he believed in, the causes he fought for, really sustained him through all of those battles,” Wasserman Schultz said.
“He always had this really, really bad heart that we all worried about. But man, he had the biggest heart I knew. He just wanted to help people,” Scott Shifrel said.
Jack Lawrence Shifrel was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on April 10, 1946, and raised in Sheepshead Bay and Plainview on Long Island.
He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Laurie; sons Darrin Shifrel and David Shifrel; daughter Jillian Lisa Jeskey; sister Lori Kearney; and brothers Myke Shelby and Scott Shifrel. He had seven grandchildren.
Memorials may be made to Dylan Tyler Jeskey Irrevocable Trust, 2990 Calabria Way, Delray Beach, Fla. 33445. The trust helps pay for his grandson’s health-related costs. Memorials may also be made to the Broward Veterans Coalition, PO Box 25386, Tamarac, Fla. 33321.