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Robert Kaufman dies; Manhattan real estate exec was 89

Robert Kaufman is seen in this undated photo.

Robert Kaufman is seen in this undated photo. Credit: Robert Kaufman is seen in this undated photo.

Robert Kaufman was a high-powered Manhattan real estate executive who was active in a variety of causes.

But daughter Ronna DiPersia recalled that, despite his demanding schedule, her father always had time for his family and others who needed his help or his ear.

“If anyone was in a bind or had an emergency — be it personal or financial or just needing advice — he was always there,” she said.

Kaufman died of cardiac arrest Wednesday at his Kings Point home at age 89, said grandson Jonathan Kaufman Iger, CEO of Sage Realty Corp. and executive vice president of the William Kaufman Organization. Robert Kaufman was president of both companies.

Kaufman was born in the Bronx and raised in Kings Point. Shortly after his 1949 graduation from New York University, he joined his father William’s real estate firm.

Decades ago, long before it became common, the company began installing artwork in its office buildings and using innovative designs for lobbies.

“They understood that good architecture was very important to attracting and retaining tenants,” said William Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Co., a Manhattan real estate firm. “They really pushed the envelope in creativity and design . . . so that the workers coming into the factories of the 20th and 21st centuries felt they were coming into an uplifting and positive environment.”

Kaufman told The New York Times in 1980 that “There’s nothing more miserable for most people as they go about their daily lives than having to get up in the morning and go to work in a dull building.”

Iger said that despite failing health in recent years, Kaufman worked until the day before he died.

“He truly had a passion for what he did, and particularly the leasing, the art of negotiation, the deal,” Iger said. “That’s what he excelled at.”

Kaufman served as a trustee and then chairman of the North Shore Health System in the years leading up to its 1997 merger with Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

“He was chairman of what was then called the North Shore Health System during a very dramatic time in our history, serving a crucial role in the development and growth of the organization during the 1990s,” said a statement by Ralph Nappi, executive vice president of Northwell Health, the new name for North Shore-LIJ Health System.

Kaufman and his wife, Florence, were longtime donors to the health system, and to a variety of other institutions, including Hofstra University, where they endowed student scholarships in their name.

Kaufman also quietly paid for the college education of other students, believing that was the best way to help them succeed, daughter Julie McAlpine said.

McAlpine said her father instilled a love of learning and reading in her and her two sisters.

“My father taught me how to think, how to reason,” she said.

Rabbi Jerome Davidson, who will officiate at services noon Sunday at Temple Beth-El in Great Neck, said Judaism was a key part of Kaufman’s identity. His endowment of the Jewish studies chair at Hofstra was in part aimed at educating non-Jews about Judaism and ensuring that Jews were “regarded with respect and esteem,” Davidson said.

In addition to his wife, two daughters and grandson, other survivors are daughter, Cathy Kaufman Iger; two sons-in-law; and six other grandchildren.

With Sid Cassese

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