Bernard Pittinsky, of Baldwin, who helped steer Yeshiva University to financial stability as director of finance for 27 years, and served on Baldwin’s school board from 1981 to 1993, died of natural causes on Dec. 26. He was 84.
The Baldwin school district paid tribute to Pittinsky on Jan. 13 when flags in the district were flown at half-staff. A certified public accountant who served as board president for five years, he brought his financial acumen to the district during a contentious period of school closings and consolidations.
“What impressed me was his continued commitment to education in Baldwin and his continued interest,” said Baldwin school board trustee Mary Jo O’Hagan, who recalled him attending board meetings until last year. He “was always familiar with the issues and asked pertinent questions — 20-plus years after officially leaving the board. To me, that spoke volumes.”
He was first and foremost a family man, however, according to one of his four sons, Matthew Pittinsky, of Paradise Valley, Arizona, an educational software entrepreneur and assistant research professor at Arizona State University. “He was very selfless,” he said. “Family was his interest, family was his joy.”
Janet Pittinsky, his wife of 60 years, survives him. They moved to Baldwin from Queens in 1968, Matthew Pittinsky said, and shared a love of education and a parenting philosophy that “their job was to open doors and allow us to choose and go through them as our interests dictated.”
And when his sons went through doors, he was sure to follow. When Scott Pittinsky, now 47 and a digital media consultant who lives in Brooklyn, played soccer, his father became a coach and board member in what was then called the Baldwin Police Boys Club, now the Police Athletic League. When his eldest, Laurence Pittinsky, of Long Beach, now 49 and an attorney in private practice, and later his youngest, Matthew Pittinsky, now 43, grew interested in scouting and camping, he became a leader in their troops in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. They both became Eagle Scouts. Todd Pittinsky, of Port Jefferson, now 47 and a professor at SUNY Stony Brook’s Department of Technology and Society, pursued scientific interests, graduating as Baldwin High School’s valedictorian.
As a member of the South Baldwin Jewish Center, Bernard Pittinsky led committees and “was one of those individuals who would be called on in the early morning to help complete a minyan and they knew that he would show up,” said Matthew. A minyan is a quorum of 10 men (now sometimes including women) needed for public Jewish worship.
“My dad was a humble leader — those two words capture both sides of him very nicely,” Matthew Pittinsky continued. “He didn’t take a lot of credit. If he made a donation, he made it anonymously. He was not flashy or gregarious, but he was a leader, and when he got involved in an organization he worked hard to improve it and make it better.”
And, he added, “He just had the biggest, warmest smile and immediately just made you feel comfortable. He was incredibly authentic and people could tell that about him.”
Bernard Pittinsky, the child of Russian immigrants of modest means, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn and Baruch College CUNY, and served in the Army during the Korean War era. He worked at SUNY Stony Brook before joining Yeshiva University in Manhattan in the mid-1970s when the university, one of the pre-eminent institutions of higher education under Jewish auspices, was in shaky financial condition. As director of finance, he became part of a tight-knit group of administrators who stabilized its finances for decades; he retired in 2002 after 27 years.
“There was no puffery about him, no boastfulness,” said Sheldon Sokol, the university’s retired vice president of business who worked down the hall from the friend and colleague he called Bernie at the Washington Heights campus for almost three decades. “He was an excellent accountant. He knew exactly what he had to do and he went about and did it.”
Even retired, the two saw each other and other colleagues socially every few weeks until Pittinsky’s health deteriorated. “He was a gentleman,” he said. “He was wonderful to work with. He made a great contribution to the school ... it was a labor of love.”
Pittinsky and his wife, a retired elementary and kindergarten teacher, kept an active social life, whether in Baldwin or in Deerfield Park, Florida, where they spent the winter. But in the summer, they focused on their children and seven grandchildren, who range in age from 2 to 21, Matthew Pittinsky said.
In addition to his wife, four sons and grandchildren, Bernard Pittinsky is survived by his brother Daniel Pittinsky. Two other brothers, Leonard and Morris Pittinsky, predeceased him. His funeral was held Dec. 28 with military honors at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont.