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BY KAITLYN MEADE | In a classroom in 1921, Geraldine Lipschutz worried about the two girls excluded by a society not nearly as open-minded as she was — a trait that continued to the end of her long and full life, which came to a close on Thursday, August 1.
“She was 101 years old and one and a quarter months,” said her friend of 30 years and fellow Southbridge Towers resident Larry Vide. Friends recalled her persistent health problems in the centenarian’s later years, but Vide said he preferred to remember Lipschutz as she was on a trip to Europe that they shared, “Oh, many years ago.”
Born in Brockton, Massachusetts on June 10, 1912, Lipschutz was nonetheless a New Yorker through and through. She was an original tenant of the Southbridge Towers middle class co-op and helped found the first anti-privatization group there in 1983. She remained a staunch advocate for affordable housing and spoke out in favor of keeping the complex in the Mitchell-Lama program.
And while she may have stepped on some toes in pursuit of her goal, she is remembered for her “tenacity and extreme intelligence,” according to a statement from Victor Papa, President of Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, who served as her power of attorney.
She gave many years to the 92Y’s Education Department during the 1940s as a music producer.
“She loved music and dance and was at one time the program director at the 92nd Street Y,” said Barry Cohen in an email to Downtown Express. “So we always talked about classical music and she actually served as a contributor to the magazine I founded, New Music Connoisseur, as a research assistant, who kept up with all of the new music concerts for us.”
Cohen said he met “Gerry” over 10 years ago and they formed a pleasant relationship. He remembers her as a strong woman, despite her failing health, who counted prominent New Yorkers among her circle such as Rupert Murdoch — who looked in on her from time to time when she wrote movie listings for the New York Post — and Chelsea poet and painter Ben-Zion, whose work she was proud to display in her home.
She wrote a great many letters and talking points for Downtown Express which resounded with her passion and idealism.
“It’s good that there will be something in the paper that she wrote so many letters to,” said Vide.
A prolific contributor, Lipschutz decried the “real estate frenzy” post 9/11 that she warned could lead to “a hodgepodge and labyrinth of concrete, brick and mortar, not a carefully planned metropolis.” Another letter on longevity’s downside, written when she was at 96, took up the cause of the elderly of Lower Manhattan who would find more and more difficulty remaining in their homes as financial and social pressures mounted.
In one talking point, she described her school days in 1921, and how she empathized with two ostracized little girls in her class that Lipschutz still wondered about years later. One of them was the only black girl in the school and a victim of the teacher’s prejudice. The other was Ines Sacco, whose father Nicola was one half of the infamous Sacco and Vanzetti trial in that year. Both, she said “illustrated what America was like then and how America has changed during the past century.”
Lipschutz looked forward as well as back. After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, she recalled a 1929 earthquake in Attica, N.Y. that she and her mother could feel from their apartment in Brooklyn. Her response also foreshadowed a disaster that struck two years later on October 29, when she wrote somewhat presciently, “Can you envision such an event here in New York? A magnitude of such proportions is beyond our imagination. We are all at the mercy of nature, especially when there is no way to prepare for it.”
Though she never married, she is survived by her friends and neighbors who will commemorate her in a private funeral ceremony.