Ralph Lutrin, a philanthropist who gave heavily to arts and animal care groups, had a Funny Girl moment in his 40s that helps explain the success he had enjoyed in a multifaceted life.
In the film treatment of vaudeville star Fanny Brice, a big-time director asks the ingenue if she can roller skate for a number in his show. She says yes. Right away, she’s flailing across the stage.
“I thought you said you could skate,” a stagehand cries as he catches the wacky star. “I didn’t know I couldn’t,” she responds.
That belief-in-oneself attitude characterized Lutrin, who died June 12 at age 93 at his Miami Beach home, remembers his husband, writer Alfred Allan Lewis.
Lewis, who met Lutrin aboard the QE2 on a trip to Europe in 1969, tells of how Lutrin took a teaching job at Trinity School in New York. Religion and English.
Religion? Lutrin wasn’t an expert but took the job. Lewis recalls that his partner was on the beach at St. Tropez clutching a Bible. “What’s with you and the Bible?” he inquired.
“He was brushing up just before he started teaching,” Lewis said. (I didn’t know I couldn’t.)
From Trinity to Fordham University, where he taught and earned his master’s in social work, Lutrin capitalized on his business sense. He was an expert on out-placement and retirement issues and gave seminars at Fortune 500 companies, including Citibank, NBC and GM. In 1985, Lutrin was tapped by the Japanese government to offer retirement advice on what was, to Japan, a developing problem.
Even before academia, Lutrin, born Aug. 18, 1922, in New York City, was used to thinking quickly. During World War II, he served as a lieutenant in the Navy, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from St. Lawrence University and while studying for his doctorate at Princeton, he was summoned home to help run the family confectionery business, Louis Sherry, after his father’s death.
In 1962, he sold Louis Sherry and figured on early retirement in Palm Beach. A miscalculation.
Lutrin, ever restless, soon was editing the weekly Palm Beach Illustrated magazine and entertaining the notion of returning to New York. As if on cue, art dealer Wally Findley called to ask if Lutrin would be interested in managing his first New York gallery. He did so. That new career eventually gave way to academia and the Trinity and Fordham adventures.
By 1990, Lutrin had moved back to Miami with Lewis, who was a writer with numerous books to his credit, including Ladies and Not-So-Gentle Women: Elisabeth Marbury, Anne Morgan, Elsie de Wolfe, Anne Vanderbilt, and Their Times. When the arts-loving pair settled in Miami Beach they encountered what Lutrin would call “a cultural desert.”
Lutrin joined the board of the Concert Association, inspired by the work of impresario Judy Drucker.
Lutrin also tapped his 50-year friendship with art collector, actress and philanthropist Audrey Love, who had donated millions to arts groups in Miami and who had helped found the University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum. “She was a woman of enormous beauty, intelligence, charm and wit,” he said in a Miami Herald obituary when she died in 2003.
Lutrin became executor of her estate and president of the Audrey Love Charitable Foundation. He continued his friend’s actions by donating millions to local arts groups like Miami City Ballet and to animal welfare — two causes that were passions of the pair, as well as Lutrin and Lewis.
Forty-three years after meeting on that European cruise, Lutrin and Lewis married in 2012.
“We opened each other to lives we didn’t know, and it’s been wonderful,” Lewis said. “We’d done just about everything and met about everyone we wanted to in a half-century ride.”
In addition to his husband, Lutrin is survived by his cousin Harry Lutrin; nieces Molly Paris, Judy Sindrin and Laura Goodmark; and sister-in-law Isabelle Lutrin. At his request, there will be no services or memorial. Donations in Lutrin’s memory can be made to a favorite arts company, Lewis said.