The Jewish community lost a stalwart leader and dear friend this past week with the death of Eugene Grant, 99, of Mamaroneck. He was a man of culture, kindness and class who defined “dapper” in his stature and dress, a legendary figure in the New York real estate world and a titan of philanthropy who was the longest continuous donor in the history of UJA-Federation of New York. His loss will be felt especially by the staff and board of The Jewish Week, of which he served as president, and whose meetings he attended faithfully until a few months ago. Mr. Grant was one of the 11 distinguished communal leaders who “re-founded” The Jewish Week in the mid-1970s as part of an effort to reinforce its foundations and strengthen its ability to cover the community with a wide reach and in-depth reporting.
Under his leadership, The Jewish Week focused increasingly on serving as an inclusive, respected voice whose mandate includes community building through a variety of educational projects.
“I thought that a good, strong paper would be a unifying influence,” Mr. Grant recalled in 2003 when he and the other Jewish Week founders were honored at a gala.
“He was a gentleman’s gentleman,” observed Richard Hirsch, who succeeded Grant as president of The Jewish Week board. “He was a mentor to me and to so many people” in fields ranging from business to philanthropy.
The Jewish Week’s current president, Stuart Himmelfarb, said Mr. Grant “set a standard of leadership, commitment and generosity for us. He never wavered in his personal commitment to ensure that the Jewish community would have a source of quality journalism. He always pushed us to do more — and to do the right thing.”
Ann Spilka, Mr. Grant’s secretary for the last 38 years at his real estate and investment firm, noted that “he always found time to meet with people who sought his advice and he listened to them, carefully and respectfully.”
Richard Kobrin, an associate in the firm for 46 years, also stressed Mr. Grant’s “kind spirit,” generosity and charm.
Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman of Larchmont Temple eulogized Mr. Grant as “a model of what a purposeful life is all about,” a loving and devoted husband of 68 years to his wife, Emily; father to daughters Terry, Andrea and Carolyn; grandfather of three. “He was a master mentor of goodness and grace.”
Mr. Grant was born in Hell’s Kitchen in 1918, attended City College of New York, and graduated from his beloved University of Michigan before receiving a law degree from Columbia University. In 1942, he enlisted in the Air Force and was a bomber escort pilot in Europe. After the war, he began his career in real estate — his best-known property was the St. John’s Terminal Building, which he sold in 2012 — and became a major philanthropic figure. His favorite causes included the welfare and security of Israel and the Jewish people, classical music and performing and visual arts, higher education, nature and the environment, and American national security.
Grant donated $1,000 to UJA in 1958 (the equivalent of about $8,700 today), and continued to give generously to the charity for the next six decades. UJA CEO Eric Goldstein said, “Gene taught us that the three most important things for a happy life are giving love, being part of a community, and doing something meaningful. His legacy will endure.”
Those of us at The Jewish Week will always remember Mr. Grant’s generous support and his wise counsel. A few years ago, though the oldest person in the room, it was he who persuaded the board to take on a venture in new technology and social media, insisting that “we’ve got be relevant to our youth.”
Gene Grant remained a forward-thinking and vital force for good throughout his long life, and we were blessed to know and learn from him. His energy, passion, humor, insights and commitment were unmatched. We will miss him, but his legacy will sustain and guide us.