Paul E. Fischer, who oversaw the historic restoration of Chautauqua’s magnificent Massey Memorial Organ, died on Feb. 5, 2021, at the age of 85 in Erie, Pennsylvania, surrounded by his loving family.
In the early 1990s, Fischer’s company won the contract to completely restore the organ that had fallen into serious disrepair after years of neglect. At the time, entire sections of the organ weren’t functioning and the cost and effort to bring this majestic instrument back to life seemed prohibitive. But Fischer and his son, Mark, along with a team of organ builders in Erie were up for the task.
Under Fischer’s expert direction, the Massey Organ was pulled from the brink of disaster after nearly two and a half years of painstaking restoration efforts. It was rededicated on June 17, 1993, and has been under the watchful eye first of Paul and later of his son, Mark, who took over the business when Paul retired.
The organ, located in the Amphitheater, is considered by many to be the centerpiece of the Institution. It is one of five outdoor organs of its kind in the world, considered “outdoor” because its chamber is not heated or air conditioned.
Fischer won the job with more than 40 years in the organ industry, having started there after graduating from high school in Fairview, Pennsylvania, in 1952. With the exception of four years he spent in the U.S. Army in White Sands, New Mexico, and Mainz, Germany, Fischer’s entire career was dedicated to building and restoring pipe organs in churches and performance venues around the world. The history of organ building in Erie is long and rich. Paul chronicled that history in his book, Making Music: The History of the Organ and Piano Industries in Erie, Pennsylvania, available in the Chautauqua Bookstore.
Paul and his wife of 59 years, Nancy, so loved wandering the grounds of Chautauqua, taking in a summer concert or lecture, or even the simple pleasure of enjoying an ice cream cone at Bestor Plaza. In addition to his wife, Paul is survived by a son Mark (Dale) of San Antonio, Texas, and daughter, Carla Allen (Douglas) of Syracuse New York; grandchildren Katie Fischer Masolotte (Ryan), Joe Fischer and Allison Fischer; and great-granddaughters Tessa and Aurora Masolotte, plus several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his parents Vincent George Fischer and Hazel Rapp Fischer, and his sisters Janet Godfrey and Jacquelyn (Lyn) Wallin.
Paul and Nancy loved to travel and frequently organized trips for groups and friends. He became a go-to resource and ad hoc travel agent for anyone who wanted a personalized “live like the locals” itinerary for some of his favorite places throughout Europe. It’s been said that Paul was the only person who could drive from the northernmost point in Europe to the southern tip of Italy and never get on a paved road, while staying at everything from farm houses to castles along the way.
Over the years, the Fischer home has been a stopping point for countless people. They hosted 16 exchange students and provided respite to many in need whether because of addiction, divorce, isolation or even the weary traveler who just needed a place to stay. Their doors were always open to provide shelter, comfort and compassion.
A funeral service was held Feb. 10, 2021, at Brugger Funeral Homes in Erie.
In lieu of flowers please send donations to the Paul Fischer Memorial Scholarship Fund at Syracuse University, which is established to provide monies to students studying pipe organ, at givetosu.syr.edu/paulfischer.