Ira Lipman, Security Man Who Spoke Out for Air Safety, Dies at 78


Ira A. Lipman, who founded one of the first major private security companies and, long before 9/11, gave prescient advice on safeguarding airport passengers from terrorists, died on Sept. 16 in Manhattan. He was 78.

The cause was complications of lymphoma, his son Gustave Lipman said.

As president and chairman of Guardsmark, Mr. Lipman commanded a security force that at its peak numbered more than 19,000 people and generated $500 million annually in revenue.

On an even broader scale, a decade or more before terrorists weaponized three commercial jets on Sept. 11, 2001, he pressed the federal government to do more to protect people at airports.

In congressional testimony and opinion articles, he was among the first security experts to urge that metal detectors be installed at every airport to screen passengers; that carry-on luggage be scrutinized fully; and that frequent fliers be given special identification cards to speed them through security checkpoints so guards could focus on more potentially problematic travelers.

Many of those recommendations, by him and others, were adopted by the federal Transportation Security Administration, including for thorough baggage checks and for government-issued passes given to qualifying travelers to expedite entry — today known as Global Entry cards.

Guardsmark was established in 1963, initially to help hospitals and factories protect themselves from theft and other losses. It grew into one of the nation’s largest privately held security companies, with a reputation for exacting standards. At the time of its founding, many security companies hired guards without conducting background checks and, by offering low wages, often attracted unreliable workers.

Guardsmark, with corporate headquarters in Memphis and executive offices in New York, was providing neighborhood patrols, home protection, bodyguards and other services by the time it was sold to Universal Protection Service in 2015. Mr. Lipman was vice chairman of the combined company for a year until it merged with AlliedBarton in 2016.

He used his bully pulpit as a corporate executive, philanthropist and member of dozens of civic boards to lobby for drug testing, background checks and other job requirements for prospective guards.

“There are security officers in this nation who are convicted murderers and rapists,” Mr. Lipman told a congressional subcommittee in 1993, “who prey on those they’re hired to protect, who cannot keep the barbarians outside the gates because they are the barbarians.”

Some higher standards took effect a decade later, despite resistance from discount competitors concerned that imposing the criteria would raise their costs.

Warning that gun-toting guards “often provoke violent confrontations,” Mr. Lipman virtually disarmed his own company’s uniformed force.

Mr. Lipman was a prominent champion of human rights, having been deeply disturbed as a child by accounts of the Holocaust he heard and read about while growing up in a Jewish family in Little Rock, Ark. He was chairman of the National Conference of Christians and Jews from 1988 to 1992 and, at his death, chairman emeritus of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Ira Ackerman Lipman was born on Nov. 15, 1940, to Mark and Belle (Ackerman) Lipman, who had moved to Little Rock from Philadelphia five years earlier. His grandparents lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, qualifying him, he said, as “a New Yorker at heart.”

He began as a private investigator when he was 8.

On assignment for his father’s investigative firm, he would go into a client’s store, buy something and, with the cash register drawer still ajar, ask to purchase another item. His father would later check the register tape to see if the clerk had recorded the second sale or pocketed the cash.

Mr. Lipman entered Ohio Wesleyan University but left after two years, in 1960, to work full time for his father’s agency after the family had moved to Memphis. He founded a Young Republican Club there. He named Guardsmark after his father.

“My father’s business was investigative,” he told The Washington Post in 2002. “I was more interested in prevention and protection.”

In 1970, he married Barbara Kelly. She and their son Gustave, who was senior vice president of Guardsmark, survive him, as do two other sons, Joshua and M. Benjamin; five grandchildren; and his sister, Carol Lipman Friedman.

Mr. Lipman was the author of several books, including “How to Be Safe” (first published in 1975), which gave advice on thwarting muggings, car theft and other threats.

Mr. Lipman, who moved to New York with his wife in 2002, endowed professorships and collected art and rare books.

He also left his mark as a footnote to a pivotal event in the annals of civil rights and American journalism: the showdown between the federal government and Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas over the integration of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957.

Mr. Lipman, then a 16-year-old senior at the high school, acted as a mole for the NBC reporter John Chancellor, feeding him information from inside Central High from a pay phone. For young Ira, the vitriol of white people directed at black students evoked the Holocaust.

“You have to imagine what it was like for a sensitive Jewish boy growing up in Little Rock right after World War II,” Mr. Lipman once recalled.

His role during the unrest was revealed only in 1993, with the publication of the journalist David Halberstam’s book “The Fifties.”

Mr. Halberstam wrote that Mr. Chancellor had often been ahead of the competition with his inside track on what was going on in Central High. “It was perhaps the first time a television reporter rather than a print reporter had put his signature on so critical a running story,” he wrote.

In 1995, Mr. Lipman established an award in Mr. Chancellor’s name at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

“I was just a scared kid making a desperate cry for help,” Mr. Lipman told The Daily News in 1995. “John Chancellor was my insurance policy, my protection against the world’s inequities.”

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