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Joan R. Saltzman dies; LI advocate who worked for racial and social justice was 99

The founder of altruistic organizations and namesake of a Hofstra University services center was remembered as having a "quiet tenacity."

Joan R. Saltzman in 2012.

Joan R. Saltzman in 2012. Photo Credit: ERASE Racism

Joan R. Saltzman would not want to be known as a philanthropist.

The advocate for people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities worked for decades to further racial and social justice on Long Island, and helped found organizations to assist others. With her late husband of 71 years, businessman Arnold Saltzman, she made major joint and individual donations to Long Island organizations.

The Sands Point resident died on Feb. 9. She was 99.

But Eric Saltzman, 71, of Manhattan, said his mother did not just give money.

“If she were described as a philanthropist, that sounds like she had money and did the right thing with it,” he said. “She, with my father, did that, too. But she rolled up her sleeves and just did everything, from painting walls to meeting with people, to convincing Gov. [Hugh] Carey to do the right thing.”

Carey, who was governor from 1975 to 1982, appointed Saltzman to several health-related councils, including on mental health. 

Saltzman helped found what is now known as the North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, and she created group homes for children and adults with developmental disabilities and those who had left psychiatric institutions, family and friends said.

Her passion for helping people with developmental disabilities stemmed in large part from her experiences with her severely autistic granddaughter, Chloe Saltzman, Eric Saltzman said.

Chloe Saltzman, now 39, has multiple developmental disabilities, said Mimi Saltzman, her mother. Mimi Saltzman said her mother spent endless hours with Chloe and was intensely devoted to her.

“She was never too tired, never too busy, and she made this beautiful girl her top priority in life, and that was true until last week,” when she died, said Mimi Saltzman, 67, of Manhattan. “That’s 39 years of profound love for a differently abled person.”

In 1991, the Saltzmans founded the Joan and Arnold Saltzman Community Services Center at Hofstra University. The center includes four clinics that provide mental health counseling; psychological evaluation; literacy support; and diagnostic and treatment services for people with speech, language and hearing disorders. Hofstra students research and train there.

“Joan Saltzman’s commitment to public service and higher education was unparalleled,” Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz said in a statement. “She and her husband, Arnold, believed deeply in supporting children and families. The Center that bears their name stands as a tribute to their compassion and commitment to the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Saltzman helped found and served on the boards of a number of organizations, said Marge Rogatz, 90, of Port Washington, who was a close friend of Saltzman for nearly 50 years and served with her in many groups.

From her longtime work with Planned Parenthood of Nassau County to providing apartments to homeless families and setting up a volunteer service for nursing home complaints, Saltzman worked behind the scenes to assist others and effect change, Rogatz said.

“She had this quiet tenacity,” she said. “She was really able to move mountains, never calling attention to herself, never looking for accolades, really just wanting to get results.”

She cofounded Community Advocates Inc., a group that focused much of its work on racial and social justice. Several years ago, it transferred much of its funds to Syosset-based ERASE Racism, Rogatz said.

Saltzman was a major donor to and served on the “college of advisors” of ERASE Racism, which promotes racial equity, said V. Elaine Gross, the nonprofit’s president.

“She definitely was very special to me personally and to ERASE Racism,” Gross said. “She was very clear about the importance of civil rights and racial equity issues. It was very close to her heart.”

Joan R. Saltzman was born on Nov. 1, 1919, in Manhattan. She graduated from Barnard College with a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1941.

In addition to Eric and Mimi Saltzman, she is survived by her son Robert Saltzman, of Todos Santos, Mexico, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Arnold Saltzman died in 2014.

A memorial celebration of Saltzman’s life will be held in the spring at Hofstra University, Eric Saltzman said.

Saltzman and her husband grew up in families of modest means, and she “never became accustomed to the things they had,” Rogatz said.

“Her feeling was that wealth makes it easier for me to live, but the best part about it is the way it can help somebody else,” she said. “That was Joan.”

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