Martin Segal, Leading New York Cultural Figure, Dead at 96 - The Jewish Voice
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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Martin Segal, Leading New York Cultural Figure, Dead at 96

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The arts world this week mourned the passing of Martin Segal, an influential leader of culture in New York City, at age 96.

A businessman who ran the Segal Company, an international consulting firm, Segal achieved his greatest renown as a prime force at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan. Besides serving as chairman of the organization from 1981 to 1986, Segal both donated and successfully solicited major funding for the cultural mecca.

Over the decade from 1968 to 1978, Segal also made a strong impact as the founding president and chief executive of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Using that role to bestow recognition on a number of cultural icons, Segal oversaw the Film Society’s honoring of silent film legend Charlie Chaplin, dance master Fred Astaire, and acclaimed film director Alfred Hitchcock.

Segal held key positions at various times in a number of other arts organizations as well. These included the New York International Festival of the Arts, which he established in 1985 and headed until it was disbanded in 2002, and the Martin E. Segal Theater Center at the CUNY Graduate Center, which he helped to found in 2000. In 1986 Lincoln Center initiated the annual Martin E. Segal Awards, which were presented to aspiring young artists.

Despite the infirmities of advanced age, Segal continued to be active in New York’s cultural circles even in his 90’s. Continuing to fundraise and offer professional advice to arts organizations executives, he worked at the office almost daily, and attended nighttime cultural events on a nearly constant basis. Segal also remained a fixture at fundraising events for such institutions as the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the New York Public Library.

Along with his wife Edith – a marriage that lasted for 74 years until her death in 2011 – Segal often held intimate dinner parties in his Lincoln Center-area apartment, hosting notables from the arts and the media, and engaging the assembled in discussions of contemporary issues. Those get-togethers were “choreographed in ways that I’ve never seen in anybody else’s apartment,” William Kelly, president of the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, told the New York Times.

Segal was greatly admired for his ability to persuade others to contribute significant sums to causes he cared deeply about. These included Lincoln Center’s redevelopment project, which upgraded the site; Public Radio International; and the Library of America, a nonprofit publisher focused on publishing and maintaining print editions of America’s most important written works.

A native of Vitebsk in Russia, Segal was already working as a youth in such jobs as delivering newspapers, operating the steam machine at a tailor shop, and selling insurance. In 1939, he founded the Segal Company, which continues to provide international consultants and actuaries for employee benefit plans. Mayor Abe Beame appointed Segal as the first chairman of the New York City’s Commission for Cultural Affairs in 1975, a position he held for two years. As such an integral part of the city scene, it seems only natural that Segal sat on the board of the Fund for the City of New York from 1978 to 1987.

Martin Segal is survived by his son, Paul, an architect; a daughter, Susan Segal Rai, a lawyer; a brother, Hylan; a sister, Esther Maidenbaum; four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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