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Harold Lazarus, academic and star economist, dies of COVID-19 at 94

Harold Lazarus died Feb. 19 of complications related

Harold Lazarus died Feb. 19 of complications related to COVID-19. He was 94. Credit: Hofstra University

Harold Lazarus, of Glen Cove, was an unforgettable academic luminary.

A noted business researcher at both Hofstra and New York University whose friends included other star economists, he may be best remembered for his love of teaching, his joie de vivre and an uncommon willingness to fight for underdogs.

"He tried to make the textbook come alive," his son Mark recalled. "And so whenever we walked through Manhattan, especially the Theater District, especially Times Square, like 90 percent of the time we would bump into someone," usually an admiring former student.

His father, who also served on a few dozen of company boards, might not recall the student’s name — as often is the case when professors are greatly outnumbered by their pupils, "Dad would be super friendly," Mark said. "People love talking about themselves and they love good listeners; that’s one reason he was so loved."

Overcoming a childhood stammer may have inspired his father to view humanity so kindly. "He definitely had a lot of empathy and compassion just for everyday people," his son said. One of seven business books Lazarus wrote is titled: "Human Values in Management." Even before Lazarus had an arm amputed due to cancer, his research partly focused on executives with disabilities, his son recalled.

His academic brilliance, which led to friendships with famed economists, including management guru Peter Drucker, was recognized early. Growing up on the Lower East Side, he attended the demanding Townsend Harris and Stuyvesant public schools before joining the Navy as a medic.

Though the war was ending and his ship never left the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Lazarus had learned to box, inspired by the prominent Jewish boxers of that era. And he tackled his shipmates who bullied Jewish sailors. "He would intervene at his own risk of life and limb," his son said.

Earning a bachelor’s degree from New York University, Lazarus began teaching full time at Hofstra in the early 1950s while completing a master’s and Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University on scholarship. At both Hofstra and the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration, where he taught from 1963 to 1973, he was awarded teacher of the year.

At Columbia, Lazarus stumped one of his professors, who sent him to Bloomingdale's top executives for the answers. His friends urged him to welcome a new arrival from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who worked at the store.

That was Carol Nunes, who canceled her lunch date to go out with Lazarus, their son recalled. Their 36-year marriage, a "wonderful" one, endured until her death at 57, he said.

At 94, complications from COVID-19 claimed Lazarus’s life on Feb. 19.

Questions were one of the professor's hallmarks. At the 1994 Hamptons International Film Festival, Newsday reported Lazarus asked actor Danny Aiello, who was presenting a 13-minute short film, if allowing people to be poor in our society is a worse sin than violence.

Former student and Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, invited to speak at Hofstra, paused on his way to the podium, Mark recalled. "He kind of fake-punched Dad … leaned down, and said: 'Lazarus, no asking those hard questions.’ "

It was at NYU that Greenspan, already working as consultant, years earlier had asked Lazarus to waive a course, Mark recalled. Lazarus, who was very "pro-student," instead gave Greenspan some books to read; a week or so later, Greenspan correctly answered the questions Lazarus posed, thus earning the course credit.

W. Edwards Deming, who is famed for helping Japan rebuild after World War II and who taught at NYU from 1946 to 1993, was another leading economist who became a friend. So did Timothy Costello, who taught at NYU’s Graduate School of Business Administration from 1946 until 1965, before becoming a New York City deputy mayor and then leading Garden City’s Adelphi University from 1972 to 1985.

While sharing an office with Drucker, who taught at NYU Stern from 1950 to 1971, Lazarus once asked him to read a paper before he submitted it for publication. Mark recalled.

"Peter asked ‘Is this your first draft? You know how I’m considered a great writer?’ " Mark said. "Great writers are not born; they are made from hard work … I turn in my eighth draft," Drucker told Lazarus.

This was advice Lazarus took to heart, his son said, recalling his younger brother’s tears when his father returned an elementary school paper with an abundance of red ink.

"It was the Drucker treatment," Mark said.

Lazarus was often ahead of his time, recognizing the hazards of smoking, and embracing what was known as "women’s lib" long before much of society, his son recalled.

Meeting Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, he thanked them for their contributions, his son said, and encouraged Steinem to stop publishing cigarette ads in Ms. magazine.

In addition to son Mark and daughter-in-law Anna Lazarus, of Rockaway Beach, survivors include son Eric, of Staten Island, and his girlfriend, Sylvia Fishel, of Glen Cove.