LI conservationist Maurice Barbash dies

Murray and Lillian Barbash in their Brightwaters home Murray and Lillian Barbash in their Brightwaters home on Nov. 23, 1988. Photo Credit: Newsday File

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Maurice "Murray" Barbash believed in many things, but perhaps none so passionately as protecting Long Island.

A conservationist developer, he championed the creation of the Fire Island National Seashore, fought the Shoreham nuclear plant and rallied for the end of the Long Island Lighting Co.

Last month, at the age of 88, Barbash stood on stage and implored officials to close the Fire Island breach.

"Here's a guy willing to throw himself into the middle of it and take a leadership role even though he's 88 years old, out of genuine concern for all of us," said longtime friend and Long Island entrepreneur Frank Boulton. "He was just a terrific human being."

Barbash, a Brightwaters resident for nearly 60 years, died Wednesday of complications from heart bypass surgery at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.

Born in 1924 to Shep and Sadie Barbash, a butcher and a magazine subscription saleswoman, Barbash grew up in the Bronx. He developed an early appreciation for classical music on the family's one radio.

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"My dad wanted to listen to the New York Philharmonic, and I wanted to listen to the New York Giants football game. He won," Barbash told Newsday in 1988.

His father died two days after Barbash's 13th birthday and he would grow up with the love of his extended Brighton Beach aunts and uncles, who "saved him" his family said.

Those days spent in Brighton Beach would influence his outlook on the environment, his family said.

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Barbash graduated from James Monroe High School at age 16 and went on to attend City College. Soon he was wooing his friend and neighbor's 15-year-old sister, Lillian Like, bringing her Chopin and Rachmaninoff recordings.

During World War II, Barbash enlisted in the Army, serving in Germany in the spring of 1945. That same year, he was supposed to head to Japan but the Japanese surrendered before he was due to ship out. He finished his college studies in 1946, and he and Like married the following year.

Barbash began a career in advertising and would eventually open his own advertising agency, but soon tired of the business. Many of his former clients had specialized in real estate so Barbash thought he'd try his hand at it, his son Shepard of West Islip said.

In 1954, Barbash and his wife moved to Brightwaters, where they would raise three children.

Barbash and partner Saul Seiff began developing properties on Long Island, taking a conservationist approach that was rare for the time. Barbash would try to preserve as many trees and other natural elements as he could, his son said, noting: "His goal was always to build with nature, not against it."

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He said his father once sued a contractor who bulldozed a tree against his orders. Another time, he said, a man put a deposit down on a unit but stipulated that a certain tree "must go." Barbash, his son said, told the man, "The tree stays, you go."

Barbash built the Sunscape development in Bay Shore, his son said, one of the first developments to incorporate solar energy. "He was an environmental builder at a time when that term was an oxymoron," said longtime friend Jim Klurfeld, a former Newsday editor.

Sam Wood, a Fire Island builder and longtime friend, said Barbash "was a pioneer on Fire Island, he was a pioneer in building."

In 1977, Barbash's daughter Susan, of Bay Shore, joined him in the family business. Her father, who she described as an honorable man who kept his promises, taught her to not take advantage of people in order to cut corners, she said. "It wasn't just about learning how to conduct yourself in business, it was about learning how to conduct yourself in life," she said.

Barbash's interest in the environment extended beyond his business. Having built the Dunewood community, Barbash fell in love with Fire Island. In 1962, when Robert Moses sought to extend Ocean Parkway into Fire Island and create the next Jones Beach, Barbash founded the Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore.

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Later, he would spearhead Citizens to Replace LILCO, an effort to stop the Shoreham nuclear power plant and bring energy rates down. After superstorm Sandy, Barbash joined his daughter Susan, of Bay Shore, in forming Protect Long Island, an effort to close the Fire Island breach.

"He was raring to go again," his daughter said.

Barbash and his wife were also passionate about the arts. In 1979, Barbash was one of the founders of the Long Island Philharmonic. In 1995, he and his wife spent $18,000 to take 700 Bay Shore students to see a Broadway play. The response from the students was so overwhelming that the couple established the Bay Shore Schools Arts Education Fund.

When he wasn't building or performing his cultural or civic duties, Barbash was an avid skier, his family said, and continued to hit the slopes until recently. He was also, they said, a devoted family man who continued to sail and spend time on Fire Island with his children and grandchildren.

Friends said Barbash's legacy is the ongoing challenge to build bridges between development and preserving the environment. Barbash himself was stumped that more people didn't understand the concept.

"I don't see the incompatibility between being a builder and being a conservationist," Barbash said in a 1971 Newsday article. "I don't understand why every builder can't plan with that sensitivity. It's exciting to me to take a piece of land and look at it and figure out the best possible use for it. I love the land. I love Long Island."

In addition to his wife, son and daughter Susan, Barbash is survived by daughter Cathy Barbash, of Ardmore, Pa.; and six grandchildren.

A service was held today at Bay Shore Jewish Center. The family plans to sit shiva at 30 Bayway Ave., Brightwaters, from 1 to 3 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday.

Donations may be made in Murray's name to the Department of Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery of the Hofstra-North Shore/LIJ School of Medicine.

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