Mayer Udell of Glen Cove, former owner and chairman of Manhasset-based London Jewelers, died Tuesday at home of natural causes. He had turned 96 on Saturday.
A retailer of jewelry, watches and gifts, London has stores in Manhasset, Greenvale, Glen Cove, East Hampton and Southampton.
Udell was born in Poland, where he helped run a family farm until 1939 when, as World War II was beginning, his mother insisted that he leave for his safety. Upon arriving in the United States, he worked in an uncle's sweater factory in the Bronx and later opened two sweater factories of his own in Bay Shore and the Bronx.
Mayer Udell's oldest son, Ira, said Mayer's mother and one of his sisters who stayed behind in Poland died in the Holocaust, both of them shot.
In 1946, Mayer Udell met and married Fran London, daughter of Charles London, a clock- and watchmaker by trade who had founded London Jewelers, a small watch repair shop, in 1926 in Glen Cove. Mayer Udell soon sold the sweater factories and took over the London family business, running it with his wife and expanding it.
They had another son, Mark Udell, who now is London's chief executive. Ira Udell is chairman of the department of ophthalmology at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Manhasset, and chairman of ophthalmology at the Hofstra-North Shore LIJ School of Medicine in Uniondale.
Both sons said their father never formally retired from London Jewelers, breakfasting every morning with Mark, counseling him on business decisions and doing some of the fine engraving and watch repairs.
Mayer Udell was London's chairman from 1947 to 1990. His wife, Fran, who survives him, was president from 1945 to 1990.
"He was soft-spoken and mild-mannered," Ira Udell said, "but he was very clear and direct about how he felt about things. If he thought you were taking the wrong approach to something, in a nice way he would make sure you knew."
Mayer Udell held multiple positions at Congregation Tifereth Israel in Glen Cove, including ritual chairman, house chairman, president of the men's club, president of the temple and member of the board of trustees. "He taught us that giving back to his community and the people who surrounded him was the most important thing in life," his son Mark said. "You work hard, you earn a livelihood and then you must give back to people who are in need."
Other survivors include five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Congregation Tifereth Israel.