LERNER, ALFRED "AL" (8 May 1933-23 October 2002) was a businessman, philanthropist and former owner of the CLEVELAND BROWNS.
Lerner was born in Brooklyn, where his immigrant parents owned a luncheonette and candyshop. He graduated from Brooklyn Tech High School. After graduating from Columbia College (now Columbia University) in 1955, he served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Lerner began his career selling furniture for Broyhill for $75 a week, first in his native New York, then in Baltimore and finally in Cleveland. While in Cleveland, he started investing in real estate and became a millionaire.
In 1981, he bought into Equitable Bank, which he merged eight years later with MNC Financial, the parent company Maryland National Bank. In 1991, after unsuccessfully trying to sell MNC’s credit card operation, he took it public as MBNA, investing $100 million of his own money in it.
In the 1970s, Lerner befriended another New Yorker in Cleveland, ART MODELL, and in 1986, bought 5 percent of the Cleveland Browns as well as half of Cleveland Stadium Corporation, the company started by Modell to operate CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL STADIUM. By the time the Browns moved to Baltimore, Lerner’s ownership stake had risen to 9 percent. Modell signed the deal to bring the NFL back to Baltimore in Lerner’s jet on the tarmac at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Lerner sold his share of the Baltimore Ravens and Stadium Corp. back to Modell for $32 million, and pursued ownership of the expansion Browns, which he was awarded in 1998. Lerner paid $530 million, then a record sum for a major league sports franchise. He also served on the NFL’s finance committee as its chairman.
At Lerner’s death, his fortune was estimated around $4.3 billion. His philanthropy included the donation of more than $100 million to the CLEVELAND CLINIC for the establishment of the Lerner College of Medicine, $25 million to Columbia University and $10 million to UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS for a tower that bears his name.
Until 2013, after the team’s sale to the Haslam family, Lerner’s initials were on Browns uniforms in a tribute. The team’s home field, FIRST ENERGY STADIUM, is on Alfred Lerner Way, and a statue of Lerner stands in front of the team offices in Berea.
He married his wife, the former Norma Wolkoff, in 1955, and they had a son, Randy, who became owner of the Browns upon Lerner’s death, and a daughter, Nancy Lerner Fisher. Lerner is buried in LAKE VIEW CEMETERY.