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Henry Everett, 78, sought social justice


Henry Everett ()

Henry Everett ()

NEW YORK, May 17 (JTA) — At a meeting of Fortune 500 companies about a dozen years ago, a man in a blue windbreaker went around giving corporate executives literature attacking the tobacco industry. “Who let this outsider crash the meeting,” asked one participant of the annual meeting of Businesses for Social Responsibility. It was Henry Everett, the left-wing champion of social justice issues and major Jewish philanthropist who died from stomach cancer Saturday at the age of 78. One of roughly 600 people attending Everett’s funeral Monday at Congregation Ansche Chesed in New York City related the story to JTA. “No matter where there was a group of people or businesses,” Everett used the opportunity to advocate for social and environmental responsibility, said Denise Hamler, director of the Co-op America Business Network. The network runs the Everett internship program, which places hundreds of students in public service jobs each summer. The episode seemed to symbolize the life of a man who crusaded for unconventional causes and maintained his ethics and modesty despite the fortune he accumulated through his investment business. Everett was generous with his time and money to a variety of organizations, from National Public Radio and Teach for America to Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He also served as vice president of JTA’s board of directors, and was on the board of the New York Jewish Week. “Henry was a real mensch. He was passionate in his beliefs, without regard to their popularity,” said Mark Joffe, JTA’s publisher and executive editor. “He was guided by a strong sense of justice and believed deeply in young people and their ability to change the world. It’s rare these days to find people so principled, selfless and determined. We will miss him.” Everett supported the aliyah of Ethiopian Jewry and Soviet Jewry. He appreciated art and nature, supporting the New York Botanical Garden and the Dance Theater of Harlem, and was a proud American, saying it was an honor to pay taxes. Everett took up his causes and took on his opponents — most notably, the tobacco industry — even if it meant risking his social standing and confronting powerful institutions. Attending board meetings or participating in conference calls, Everett would peruse mounds of reading material while maintaining his attention to the discussion at hand, friends and colleagues said. Constantly clipping articles about social injustice, he would mail them to a massive number of people, with handwritten notes urging their attention or feedback. Many said they couldn’t think of Everett without also thinking of his wife, Edith. “He and she defined couple in the way it was meant to be,” said Yeshiva University president Richard Joel, the former president of Hillel. Asked to summarize her father’s message, Carolyn Everett spoke about both parents. “They really stood up for things,” she told JTA. “They were always ahead of their time.” They shared an office — he as an investment adviser, she as a broker — and a belief in helping those less fortunate. In fact, the Brooklyn-born and -raised couple’s second date was a lecture by Norman Thomas, a Socialist candidate for president. The Everetts’ politics often put them at odds with the mainstream — such as the time the couple took on one of New York Jewry’s heavyweights, the Tisch family, over tobacco. As a member of the UJA-Federation of New York, Henry Everett stridently and unsuccessfully protested the choice of James Tisch, whose Loew’s Corporation owned Lorillard Tobacco, to head the federation in the late 1990s. They even were escorted out of a 1982 General Assembly of the North American federation system for pushing for aliyah of Ethiopian Jewry when the rest of the community and Israel pooh-poohed the idea. Everett maintained scrupulously high standards in his business and foundation life, instituting the first performance standards for local Hillels, for example. He maintained the same standards in his private relationships, friends and colleagues said. Watching Everett taught Matt Grossman, executive director of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, “how to listen, how to care,” he said. “You learn about integrity when you’re around Edith and Henry,” said Grossman, who formerly worked at Hillel. “The only thing they did lavishly was their philanthropy,” said Grossman, who noted that despite their wealth, the Everetts often traveled by Greyhound or Amtrak. Carolyn Everett only realized the family was wealthy when she saw a blueprint of a school her parents were sponsoring in Israel. The secret to the family’s financial success was Henry’s research and hard work, Edith Everett said in a booklet prepared by Hillel, which honored the couple at a dinner two months ago. Starting out as a market researcher for Abraham and Strauss Department Stores, Everett would work until the early hours of the morning. He knew it was time to go to sleep was when his neighbor, a butcher, started his day’s work at 3 a.m. Everett attended Yeshiva of Flatbush and Columbia University, at a time when Columbia observed a quota for Jews. Everett entered the retail industry because it was easier for Jews to find work, but ultimately started his own investment firm. In a eulogy Monday, New York State Sen. Seymour Lachman asked those present to continue Everett’s legacy. “We incorporate his dedication and his energy and passion for justice using our skills,” Lachman said of Everett, “so today will be better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be better than today.” In addition to his wife and daughter, Everett is survived by a son, David, and grandchildren Elias, Ethan and Hannelora.