Harold A. Klein, the former director of public relations at Hofstra University who is credited with inspiring a series of scholarly conferences on the U.S. presidency, died Wednesday after he was hospitalized with an unknown infection. He was 87.
As spokesman for the university, Klein communicated the college's programs and mission to media outlets from the mid-1970s through the 1980s.
After retirement, he stayed involved on the Hempstead campus as an adjunct professor in the marketing department, where he taught a course in public relations for 30 years to students in the Zarb School of Business until 2011.
Klein, a longtime Great Neck resident, had an insatiable appetite for news, politics and history, former colleagues and his family said.
His meetings of various U.S. presidents were among his fondest memories, said his son, Alex Klein. A cherished photo in the family's home shows Klein greeting President Jimmy Carter with Mitchel Field in the background.
"My father couldn't ever turn off the news," said Alex Klein, 46, of Roslyn Heights. "His life ran around politics."
He took a particular interest in President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. In March 1982, he was instrumental in organizing a campus event called "FDR: The Man, The Myth, The Era: 1882-1945."
The three-day conference of scholars was the genesis of the Presidential Conferences at Hofstra University, which brought together journalists, former government officials and, in some cases, the former presidents themselves to discuss the policies and issues of the office.
"That evolved into the Presidential Studies Center and our efforts in getting the two debates onto campus," said Hofstra Provost Herman Berliner, referring to the historic 2008 and 2012 presidential debates hosted on campus. "That all actually started from the FDR conference."
Klein was born on July 3, 1925, in the Bronx. He was the only child of Hungarian immigrants, Alex and Lena, owners of a local grocery store.
He returned and earned a bachelor's degree in English and journalism from Long Island University in Brooklyn and a master's degree from Columbia University School of Journalism in 1952.
As a communications professional, Klein was "never a spin master," said Michael DeLuise, former vice president of university relations at Hofstra who worked closely with him.
"Harold always looked at public relations as a profession and not just a marketing tool," said DeLuise, 63, of Dix Hills. "We were very proud of our relationship with the media. If they called our office, they were always going to hear the truth."
Fellow Columbia alum and 60-year friend Eve Orlans Mayer, 82, of Manhattan, described Klein as someone with "a soft voice but [who] had great personal strength and dignity."
In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 58 years, Ruthe Klein of Great Neck, and daughter-in-law, Gail Berch Klein of Roslyn Heights.
A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Riverside North Chapel, 55 N. Station Plaza, Great Neck. Burial will follow in New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon.