Richard Abrons, Patron of the Henry Street Settlement, Dies at 92


Richard Abrons, whose destitute, widowed grandmother was rescued by the social reformer Lillian Wald and who decades later returned the favor by becoming a major benefactor of Wald’s storied Henry Street Settlement, a longtime social services agency on the Lower East Side, died on Monday in a hospital in Manhattan. He was 92.

The cause was kidney failure, his wife, Iris Abrons, said.

An investment manager who later turned to writing plays, Mr. Abrons and his family underwrote Henry Street’s arts classes and college scholarships, expanded its homeless and other social services, helped the settlement acquire what became known as the Boys and Girls Republic community center and transformed vacant lots adjacent to the settlement’s original building into Martin Luther King Jr. Community Park.

Mr. Abrons was also credited with helping to obtain a founding gift from his sister, Rita Aranow, to establish its Workforce Development Center, a job training and placement program.

The children of Mr. Abrons and his sister and brother established a fund through the settlement that has granted 530 low-income students more than $500,000 in college scholarships since 1998.

Lillian Wald, an Ohio native, moved to Manhattan from upstate when she was 22 to study nursing. She was in the vanguard of a movement that favored giving the poor the resources to break the cycle of poverty rather than offer them temporary relief. She settled, with fellow social workers, in the Lower East Side to provide health care, education and social services to impoverished immigrants in 1893 and moved to the original building, 265 Henry Street, two years later.

Mr. Abrons was president of the Henry Street Settlement from 1985 to 1995, vice chairman of the board at the time of his death, and a board member for 52 years.

He remained a limited partner in First Manhattan Money Management, an investment firm he had formed with several colleagues in 1964, but gravitated toward a second career as a writer.

In 1991, he earned a master’s in fine arts from New York University and has published nearly two dozen short stories and has written plays.

Among the stories was “Every Day a Visitor,” which appeared in The North American Review and won the National Magazine Fiction Award in 1981. It was published in an anthology called “Every Day a Visitor” in 1996, and was adapted into a play performed by the New Federal Theater company at the McGinn/Cazale Theater in Manhattan in 2001. The characters are residents of a Bronx retirement home who emulate politicians and celebrities.

Lawrence Van Gelder wrote in The New York Times that the play “strikes a praiseworthy blow for the individuality of the elderly.”

“In an effort to rouse themselves from the dispiriting circumstances of their remaining lives,” The Times review continued, “these elderly people decide that since they cannot change their retirement home they will empower themselves.”

In the comedy “The Brothers Berg,” performed at the Here Arts Theater in the South Village in 2000, the speeches by Mr. Abrons’s character Morris, Bruce Weber of The Times wrote, exhibit “a modest gift for the kind of withering self-deprecation and eloquent tactlessness that we’ve come to associate with unhappy men of letters.”

Richard Simon Abrons was born on Nov. 22, 1925, in New Rochelle, N.Y. His father, Louis, was a Russian-born real estate developer. His mother was Anne (Schroeder) Abrons. Anne’s mother had been struggling to raise five children when Wald found her a job sewing nurses’ uniforms.

Louis was a member of a Henry Street literary club whose leader, Herbert H. Lehman, the investment banker and governor, would help pay his college tuition.

Richard’s parents met in 1905 at a Henry Street dance; Wald and Lehman attended their wedding and Louis Abrons later became a major benefactor of the settlement house. Richard Abrons worked as a volunteer counselor and swimming teacher at the Henry Street Settlement’s summer camp in the 1940s.

After graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., Richard Abrons earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale in 1949 and a master’s in business administration from Columbia.

His marriage to Mimi Mulwitz in 1950 ended in divorce in 1983. He is survived by two sons from that marriage, Peter and John Abrons; and a daughter, Leslie Abrons; two stepsons, Andrew and Jay Schinderman; and nine grandchildren.

Mr. Abrons also was active in other institutions, including the Bronx Children’s Museum and GrowNYC, an urban farm volunteer group.

Mr. Abrons was said to have been the only person to have known every one of Henry Street’s executive directors since the settlement was founded.

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