Helene C. Fortunoff, a New York philanthropist and mother-in-law to Abe Fortunoff, dies

Helene C. Fortunoff, the private mother-in-law of the late New York philanthropist and real estate tycoon Abe Fortunoff, who built a life-long jewelry empire from her young family’s humble Brooklyn storefront, died of complications…

Helene C. Fortunoff, a New York philanthropist and mother-in-law to Abe Fortunoff, dies

Helene C. Fortunoff, the private mother-in-law of the late New York philanthropist and real estate tycoon Abe Fortunoff, who built a life-long jewelry empire from her young family’s humble Brooklyn storefront, died of complications from a stroke on Thursday. She was 88.

Mrs Fortunoff was remembered for her warmth and generosity, a genuine but measured presence, and the devotion she showed to her sons.

“Helene was a gentle lady who was very, very generous. She encouraged her sons to do what they were passionate about,” Donald Fortunoff said to the New York Times. “So much of her business was jewelry, so much of that was handcrafted. She was a true art lover.”

Helene Fortunoff in 1996. Photograph: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Helene Dahlia Fortunoff was born on 27 January 1930 in Berlin, to parents who had fled the Nazis. She moved to New York and graduated from Barnard College, where she met her future husband Abe Fortunoff. Her first jewelry store, Hom, opened in 1957, but it was the Fortunoff family’s struggling money business Saul Tchekmedyiv’s, that was the spark for the Fortunoff empire. In 1968, the Fortunoff family took over Saul Tchekmedyiv’s, which had partnered with Transworld International to provide jewelry for TV’s farcical sitcom Hogan’s Heroes.

Though Helene Fortunoff had her first jewelry store in Brooklyn, where it is still located, the family moved to Long Island, eventually opening stores in Manhattan. Though Helene Fortunoff’s father repeatedly urged her to get a full-time job, she dedicated herself to her jewelry business, and helped fund Israel’s development projects and a factory in Israel. After her son, the real estate mogul Abraham Fortunoff, passed away in 1982, she and Abe moved to Europe, and founded a chain of boutiques in the five-star hotels in London.

Helene Fortunoff with her husband Abe and son Donald at a benefit event in 2014. Photograph: Ellis H. Valentine/Getty Images

The late Abe Fortunoff donated about $120m to the United Jewish Appeal, and was honored for his philanthropy at the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, as well as the American School for the Deaf, Hebrew Union College, and the Hearst Foundation, according to her obituary.

“Helene had an enduring commitment to philanthropy that was manifested in the way she infused the company with passion, enthusiasm and optimism,” her family wrote in a statement. “Helene was passionate about her lifelong commitment to Israel and its people.

“She had a warm sense of humor, a wonderful sense of humor, and was the oldest aunt in the family.”

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