When Laurence A. Tisch graduated cum laude from NYU’s School of Commerce in 1942 at the age of 18, it must have seemed likely that he was headed for success. Few, however, could have predicted that he would become one of America’s best known and admired businessmen, would become a prominent philanthropist, and, in over 35 years as an NYU trustee—including 20 years as chairman—would guide the University through perhaps its greatest transformation.

The University lost a tireless champion when Tisch died on November 15 at the age of 80. A recipient of some of the University’s highest honors — including the University Medal and the Albert Gallatin Medal —Tisch was cited by NYU at the Gallatin Medal presentation last May, for “his mastery in business, his unflagging support of higher education and groundbreaking research, his dedication to causes related to Jewish life, and his passionate commitment to the common good and the people of the city.”

“It is impossible to measure what Laurence Tisch has meant to NYU because his contributions are unending and have reached every corner of the globe,” said President John Sexton. “He was the essence of an advocate, a visionary, and a driving force to better this University. We are all deeply saddened that we won’t have his presence on campus anymore, and I will personally miss his sage counsel and guidance.”

Indeed, NYU flourished during the two decades (1978-98) that Tisch chaired the Board of Trustees. In that time, the University raised $1.8 billion, endowed more than 140 professorships, transformed the Washington Square campus with new educational facilities, increased student housing capacity nine-fold, saw first-year applications nearly quadruple, and achieved record numbers for first-year SATs and acceptance rates.

“Larry was the leader, the spark plug, the dreamer who would make the dream true,” said Martin Lipton, chair of the NYU Board of Trustees, at a memorial for Tisch at Central Synagogue. “If there was a problem, you could count on Larry to be there, getting a group together to solve the problem. If there was an opportunity, Larry was there. He would seize the opportunity.

“In looking back over Larry’s life, he created a great company, but I think his crowning achievement—apart from his family—was he truly created a great university.”

“The prestigious University we have now, this research institution that attracts scholars and students from throughout the world, is in large measure attributable to Larry Tisch’s courage, steadfastness, foresight, dedication, and belief in his city and his alma mater,” said President Emeritus L. Jay Oliva in 1998, when Tisch stepped down from his position on the Board.

Born in Brooklyn to Russian immigrant parents, Tisch earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School after leaving NYU. He served in an Army cryptanalysis unit during World War II and then briefly attended Harvard Law School before departing Cambridge early to invest in an aging hotel in Lakewood, N.J. After a facelift, the hotel began producing a profit, and when his brother, Preston Robert (Bob), graduated from Michigan, the two turned toward bigger sites.

A string of successful hotel investments in Miami, Atlantic City, and the Catskills preceded the building of New York City’s 50-story Americana, the world’s tallest hotel when it was erected in 1962. With the help of his brother and other investors, Tisch would eventually pursue other industries, buying Loews Theatres in 1959, the Lorillard Tobacco company in 1968, CNA Financial Corporation in 1974, and Bulova watches in 1986.

In ’86, Tisch acquired a 25% share of CBS and was soon asked to become CEO of the media giant, backed by broadcasting pioneer William Paley. While there, he made several bold and controversial moves, including the sale of CBS Records and CBS Magazines. However, after languishing at the bottom of the network ratings for years, CBS pulled into first place in the early 1990s and under his management the value of CBS stock appreciated at a 15% annual rate. Tisch sold CBS to Westinghouse in 1995 and stepped down from his position as CEO of Loews Corporation on January 1, 1999, though never officially retired, remaining as co-chairman on Loews’ board and staying active in company affairs.

The acumen and energy Tisch put into his business life was also channeled into numerous charitable and non-profit efforts. The Tisch Foundation’s philanthropy inspired NYU to name the School of the Arts, the main building of the Stern School of Business, and several other facilities after the family. He was a trustee of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, the Legal Aid Society, the Suffield Academy, and the Whitney Museum, and was president of the United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York in the early 1970s. His gift to the Wildlife Conservation Society created the Tisch Children’s Zoo in Central Park. Tisch’s many honors included an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Skidmore College, the New York State Governor Arts Award, and the Oscar Strauss Award for Outstanding Philanthropy.

Tisch was known to always make plenty of time for his family and for instilling in them a passion for justice and for enhancing the lives of others. He loved to talk about his grandchildren’s accomplishments, their efforts in school and new careers. With his philanthropy and generosity of personal time, Tisch touched and improved countless lives, including thousands of NYU students, alumni, faculty, and administrators.

“Larry Tisch made an enormous contribution to this city and he will be sorely missed,” said NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a New York Sun article. “He represented what is best about New York, and his generosity will leave a legacy that we will all try to build on.”

Tisch is survived by his wife of 55 years, Wilma (Billie) Stein, four children (Andrew, Daniel, James, and Thomas), his brother, Bob, and 15 grandchildren.

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