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Media mogul Redstone gets encouragement from friend turning 90

Sumner Redstone arrives at the premiere of "The Guilt Trip" starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen in Los Angeles December 11, 2012.REUTERS/Fred Prouser

By Ross Kerber

BROOKLINE, Mass. (Reuters) - Famed Massachusetts mill owner Aaron Feuerstein has this message for his friend and embattled media executive Sumner Redstone: hang in there.

"As long as he is succeeding, and as long as it's profitable, I don't see why he should step down," Feuerstein said in an interview of Redstone, the 92-year-old executive chairman of both Viacom Inc and CBS Corp who faces renewed questions over his fitness to lead.

Feuerstein spoke at a party thrown on Sunday by friends and family for his own upcoming 90th birthday, and said he had come to know Redstone on vacations and through connections in Boston's tight business community, Redstone's home turf.

The event illustrated the contrast between the two figures' legacies. Some of Redstone's investors have been up in arms after a former girlfriend of Redstone filed a lawsuit alleging he was mentally incompetent. With Redstone out of the public eye, last week a member of Viacom's board made the rare move of responding publicly to investors' concerns, saying Redstone remains "mentally capable."

Feuerstein, meanwhile, is famous for different reasons. Twenty years ago, Feuerstein kept paying his idled workers while he rebuilt his textile factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts after a disastrous fire. He became a national symbol of benevolent capitalism during an era of corporate cost-cutting.

Feuerstein reinvested too much, however, and was eventually forced out of his own family business, Malden Mills. Now known as Polartec and owned by Versa Capital Management of Philadelphia, the company has about 600 workers, down from 3,200 at Malden Mills' peak.

Feuerstein was still the toast of Boston at the party on Sunday, held at the modern synagogue Feuerstein attends in the quiet suburb of Brookline.

Guests included Michael Dukakis, the onetime U.S. presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor, and former Representative Barney Frank, who once headed the U.S. House Financial Services Committee.

"You carried a community on your back," U.S. Representative Joseph Kennedy III told Feuerstein during the event.

Once a distance runner, Feuerstein stood before the group to give his own remarks, stooped but articulate. He quoted the poet Samuel Coleridge and biblical verses and told the audience that workers should not be oppressed.

"Prayer is meaningless unless it involves love for God's creatures and one's fellow man," Feuerstein said.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)