Henry Everett, an indomitable Jewish philanthropist known for his often lonely battles for unpopular causes, died Saturday in Manhattan at the age of 78, after a difficult battle with cancer.
Along with his wife, Edith, Everett was known as one of the most outspoken and creative Jewish philanthropists of the last generation, taking a lead role in dozens of Jewish and civic causes, often long before they became mainstream. Most notably, Everett crusaded against the tobacco industry since the early 1970s, claiming it was knowingly responsible for the deaths of million of smokers.
In one of his most controversial battles, he publicly opposed the appointments of James Tisch — whose family fortune includes the Lorillard Tobacco Company — as president of UJA-Federation of New York and later as national chairman of United Jewish Communities. His opposition, ultimately unsuccessful, was based on the argument that the organized Jewish community should insist on strict ethical standards among its leaders, extending to the sources of their wealth.
Everett and his wife were involved in dozens of organizations in Israel and the United States, ranging from the United Jewish Appeal, Hillel and the New Israel Fund to the Israel Tennis Center, the Dance Theater of Harlem and the New York Botanical Garden, where they sponsored an acclaimed children’s adventure garden. They were outspoken advocates of American Jewish assistance to Israel’s Druze minority, a Muslim community that Everett argued did not receive its fair share of Israeli social services.
“When he asked a question, people listened,” said Robert Arnow, a real estate executive and philanthropist who said he had known Everett for more than 20 years. “He was a brilliant thinker, very meticulous in what he did and how he did it.”
The Everetts were at the forefront of the campaign to aid Ethiopian Jewry and were early leaders of the American Association of Ethiopian Jews. “I remember when they were escorted out of a 1983 General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations meeting in L.A., because they wanted the plight of Ethiopian Jewry to be placed on the national agenda,” said a close friend, New York State Senator Seymour Lachman, speaking at Everett’s funeral Monday. “But the organized Jewish community wasn’t ready.”
A native of Brooklyn, Everett attended the Yeshiva of Flatbush and served with the U.S. Army in the Philippines during World War II, after which he attended Columbia University. After his first career, in retail, he eventually opened his own investment company in 1974.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an estimated 600 people attended his funeral, at Manhattan’s Ansche Chesed synagogue.
In addition to Edith, his wife of 54 years, Everett is survived by his children, David and Carolyn, and grandchildren, Elias, Ethan and Hannelora.