Melville Straus, Money Manager With Passion for Arts, Dies at 75

Melville Straus, Money Manager With Passion for Arts
Melville Straus, chairman of Guild Hall and founder of Straus Asset Management LLC, right, poses for a photo with his wife Lelia at a benefit in Bridgehampton, New York in 2013. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Melville “Mickey” Straus, a New York money manager with a passion for the visual and performing arts who helped lead cultural groups in Manhattan and its summer getaway, the Hamptons, for three decades, has died. He was 75.

He died on May 1 at his home in New York City, according to a death notice in the New York Times. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in September 2012.

A onetime security analyst at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, Straus formed Straus Asset Management LLC in 1998 and, as managing principal, oversaw about $200 million as of 2012, according to a biography on the website of his alma mater, Dartmouth College.

He was chairman of the American Ballet Theatre from 1982 to 1990, treasurer-secretary of Independent Curators International and served as a member of the Contemporary Arts Council of the Museum of Modern Art.

From 1995 to 2013, he was chairman of Guild Hall, a cultural center in East Hampton on New York’s Long Island, and led a five-year, $14 million capital campaign to renovate its building and grounds before a grand reopening in 2009. He personally donated about $1 million since joining the board in 1992, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Actor Alec Baldwin, president of the Guild Hall board of trustees, presented Straus with a lifetime achievement award at a 2013 dinner marking his retirement as chairman.

Wife’s View

“Mickey has always amazed me with his dedication and generosity to the creative community,” his wife, Leila Straus, wrote as part of a video tribute at the awards event. “He’s had more sleepless nights about financial crises on these boards than he has had on Wall Street.”

Straus also led the creation of the Hamptons Institute, a series of symposiums on topical issues presented by Guild Hall in collaboration with the New York-based Roosevelt Institute.

At a 2006 event marking the 75th anniversary of Guild Hall, Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of Blackstone Group LP, called Straus “the greatest arm twister on the East End,” according to an account in the New York Sun.

Straus didn’t disagree.

“I’m pretty brazen about collecting money,” he said, according to a Wall Street Journal article in March 2013. What would tip off his intentions? “If they are invited to dinner, then they know,” he said.

Straus was born on March 16, 1939, and grew up in Tucson, Arizona. He became interested in the stock market, according to a 2013 interview he gave to the East Hampton Star, after receiving 50 shares of Montgomery Ward from his father, Milton, when he was in high school.

Career Path

He graduated from Dartmouth, in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1960 and received an MBA from Harvard Business School in Boston in 1967. He then went to work for Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, the firm co-founded eight years earlier by William Donaldson, Dan Lufkin and Richard Jenrette.

Straus joined Standard & Poor’s InterCapital Inc., an asset manager, when it was formed in 1969, serving as vice president and director of research. He moved in 1973 to Weiss Peck & Greer LLC, where he managed $1.5 billion of institutional small-cap accounts, according to his Dartmouth biography. A 1990 New York Times article said Straus was manager of the $200 million WPG Tudor Fund.

According to marriage announcements in the Times, Straus married Susan Solomon in 1965 and Susan F. Paull in 1979.

His survivors include his wife, the former Leila Maw, owner of a New York media-consulting firm, who he married in 1986; a son, Scott, who he had with Solomon; a son, Benjamin, and daughter, Alexandra, who he had with Maw.

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