Obituary: Lester R. Giegerich, 96, Darien resident, real estate pioneer

Lester Ralph Giegerich of Darien, who developed some of the first shopping centers in California, died in the early morning of Tuesday, Jan. 17, at Norwalk Hospital. He was 96 and still active in his real estate development and management business until the last two weeks of his life.

Born May 22, 1915, he was raised in New Providence, N.J., “Les” Giegerich went to the University of Pennsylvania on full scholarship and graduated from the Wharton School of Commerce & Finance in 1940. He then moved to Missouri where he met and married Betty Louise Bradley of Kansas City in 1941. He served as a World War II Air Force flight instructor for five years at Kelley Field in Texas where he rose to the rank of major.

After the war, Mr. Giegerich worked for Merrill Lynch in Kansas City followed by four years with Traveler’s Insurance Co. as assistant manager of the City Mortgage Loan Department. He then moved on to head up the Mortgage Loan & Real Estate Department of Teacher’s Insurance & Annuity Association in New York City from 1950-54.

He was a pioneer in the sale and leaseback transactions (a financial device that allowed new stores to be built at a time when suburbs were rapidly expanding), his family said, and mortgage banking with his partner Sidney M. Barton of New York. In 1960 he started his own company, the Giegerich Co., in Westport, where he lived with his wife and two daughters.

During his 60 years as one of the country’s most active experts in leasebacks, his family said, Mr. Giegerich developed some of the first shopping centers in California with partners Earnest W. Hahn, Linn C. Alexander and Gerry L. Moss — all pioneers in the industry. One of his earliest projects was the Spanish-styled La Cumbre in Santa Barbara. Not only did his company develop shopping centers, but it also financed numerous office and industrial buildings throughout the U.S. Additionally, the Giegerich Co. conducted a mortgage banking business through 1986.

In 1977, after his first wife died of cancer, Mr. Giegerich married Lillian Ransco Roney of Darien, formerly of Rochester, N.Y., and moved to Darien.

In Fairfield County, Mr. Giegerich served on many boards including the Westport YMCA, the Westport Library, the Norwalk Housing Association, and the Maritime Aquarium. He was a generous donor to not only these organizations, his family said, but also others such as the Westport Saugatuck Congregational Church, the Norwalk Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania.

Known affectionately as Mr. G. in his office, his family said, Mr. Giegerich “was a humanist, always interested in people and their lives. An inspiration to all, he was generous with his time and talent. Drawing from his innate common sense and wide perspective, Les was an educator; he was known to offer advice to many, particularly to those who were just starting out in their careers.”

“Open-minded with many interests, Les lived life fully,” his family said. “He traveled to all the continents (at least twice) and had few wonders of the world left to see. He read widely, and especially loved history books and biographies. His athletic abilities lasted into early ’90s during which he still enjoyed skiing, tennis and swimming, but above all, the sport of golf.”

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Lillian Giegerich; his sister, Marion Snyder of New Providence, N.J.; his two daughters, Brenda K. Giegerich of Westport, and Marsha G. Torkelson of Mill Valley, Calif.; his step-daughter Joan Roney of New York City and his step-son John Roney of Darien; three grandchildren, and two newly born great grand-daughters.

Calling hours will be Friday, Jan. 20, at Lawrence Funeral Home, 2119 Post Road, Darien from 5-8. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at the St. Thomas More Church, 374 Middlesex Road, on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 10. Burial follows with full military honors at Spring Grove Cemetery. A celebration of Mr. Giegerich’s life will follow at the Country Club of Darien.

Memorial donations may be made to Norwalk Hospital’s Whittingham Cancer Center at norwalkhospitalfoundation.orgor by calling 203-852-2216.