ST. PETERSBURG — Alexander Astrack justifiably could have harbored bitterness after World War II. Many comrades died. The Battle of the Bulge nearly cost him his legs. Nightmares haunted him after he came home.
But Mr. Astrack was a sociable man, quick to seek kinship. In the early 1960s, when others still bore grudges against former enemies, he jumped at the chance to do business with Japan — an instinct that helped turn his fledgling food-flavoring business into an international supplier.
Ajinomoto, the Japanese company that patented MSG, was trying to crack into the U.S. market, and Mr. Astrack signed on as its East Coast representative.
"He told me it was going to pay all the bills," said Barry Coyle, vice president of purchasing for Ungerer and Co., a New Jersey flavoring company that did regular business with Mr. Astrack. "It was his big claim to fame."
Mr. Astrack, who died last week at age 94, later imported natural fish extracts for use in soups and other foods. In 1965, the Japanese Finance Ministry awarded him a medal for introducing Japanese products to the United States.
"He was an unusually dynamic man," said his daughter Kathie Longo of Tarrytown, N.Y. "He cultivated businessmen in such a way that they became very loyal friends. The Japanese treated him like royalty, and it kind of turned the whole idea of the Japanese being our enemy around."
Mr. Astrack studied chemistry on the GI Bill and built two flavoring and fragrance businesses based in New York, including Astral Extracts, which his wife, Cynthia, still runs.
Well past 70, he traveled three or four times a year to exotic locales in search of fruits, nuts and oils that could produce new tastes and aromas.
The Astracks split their time between Manhattan and St. Petersburg's Bayway Isles.
The same qualities that made for a good salesman — amiability, curiosity and wit — regularly entertained a wide circle of family and friends. He might talk philosophy one moment, then recite a bawdy limerick the next.
"He was truly a magician. He could walk into a room and the immediate texture of the environment would change," recalled niece Tina Grossmann DePaz. "People were drawn to him. It wasn't because he was the center of attention. It was because of his kindness. He would shake you hand and say hello like it mattered, whether you were a 4-year-old or a 94-year-old."
Mr. Astrack's fascination with food extended to his own gourmet cooking. Friends remember big parties with savory clam chowder and borscht, to honor his father's Russian heritage.
"Of all the thousands of people who knew Alexander, not one person ever said a bad thing about him," said his wife. "He was so fun-loving."
His health declined after he suffered a head injury in a recent fall. He died Monday at home, as he requested, with family at bedside, as well as his beloved Maltese dog, Ivan Nicholai.