Henry Everett was the real thing. He believed deeply and lived according to his beliefs. "Not everyone was able to live out the fundamental values of the Jewish people as well as he did," said Neil Moss, chairman of the Board of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
By the time he succumbed after a long battle with cancer on May 15, Henry had achieved remarkable success in everything he held dear. An accomplished businessman, Henry had used his wealth to create a series of non-profit institutions and programs to benefit Israel, the Jewish community, young people, the underprivileged and New York City. Most importantly, he basked in the love of his wife Edith, children David and Caroline, and grandchildren Elias, Ethan and Hannelora. Shortly before his death, Henry was asked to reflect on the life he had created with Edith. "We are blessed," he said.
Henry, a member of Hillel's International Board of Governors, was a welcome presence at Hillel events where he delighted in seeing young people engage in social action. "Hillel is the last place where the Jewish community has the opportunity to keep Jewish young people affiliated before they go into the working world," Henry said. "We believe that Hillel can make a contribution to teaching young people about tikkun olam. If they don't get involved in repairing the world, there is something wrong with our community."
Henry was born in 1926 in New York and was educated at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, a school his father helped to create. His father, who ran a clothing factory in Manhattan's garment district, died following a long illness soon after Henry was bar mitzvah. Henry explained that during the difficult years of his father's decline, he witnessed his mother's complete devotion to her husband while sparing him and his younger sister the pain and anxiety she was feeling.
Henry was valedictorian of his class, a distinction that earned him one of the limited places Columbia University reserved for New York-area Jews. Two years into his education, Henry was drafted into the Army and served his country in the Philippines.
When the war ended, Henry returned to New York to complete his education. A mutual friend arranged a date with Edith who was then a sophomore at Hunter College. "Henry appeared so young that I had to ask our mutual friend if he was really as old as he said he was," Edith remembered.
The couple married in 1950. While Henry received his master's degree in business administration at Columbia, Edith taught school and earned a master's degree at Columbia's Teachers College. Henry went to work for the Abraham and Strauss Department Stores upon graduation. "Even though my degree was in finance, I chose not to apply for jobs in the field because there were few places open to Jews at the time," Henry said.
Edith taught second-graders in East New York, an area with great need. She left teaching after three years when she became pregnant with their first child, David.
While Henry did market research for A&S, he invested small sums in securities and advised friends when they asked about the stock market. In 1974, Henry left A&S to create his own investment company. Edith had also become a stock broker after years of helping Henry. Their hard work paid off. Their list of clients grew. Their investments proved successful.
"People often ask us about the secret of our success. The money came because Henry was very bright about what he did," explained Edith. Henry was renowned as a voracious reader who researched his interests thoroughly, whether it is business or philanthropy. "Our success has come because of our performance and because of our forthrightness," she continued. "People come to us because they trust us. It's very gratifying that our clients understand that we are looking out for their best interests, and that they can trust what we do and what we say. That's the best way to work and, really, the best way to live."
Henry and Edith have applied this same approach to their philanthropy. They have sought out groups with talented, reliable and trustworthy management. Importantly, Henry took an active role in the organizations they support to ensure that their charitable investments perform up to their potential.
In 1955, with limited resources, they created a family foundation. With a continuing infusion of their funds, successful investing and good luck, the Everett Foundation grew. The couple support a host of charities in the United States and abroad that includes the Everett School in Hatzor, Israel, the Dance Theater of Harlem, National Public Radio, the Everett Public Service Internship Program, Teach for America, New York Botanical Garden, Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, the Israel Education Fund, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the American Jewish Committee, among many others. Henry joined Edith in a crusade against the tobacco industry.
Hillel International President Avraham Infeld knew the Everetts for decades and marveled at their insight and the strength of their relationship. "Love radiated from them whenever they were together," Infeld said. "Just as they took care of one another, they took care of the world around them. Henry's passing leaves a tremendous void that will not soon be filled."