A Beacon of Generosity and Grace: Philanthropist Dorothy Lichtenstein Dies at 84 - 27 East

A Beacon of Generosity and Grace: Philanthropist Dorothy Lichtenstein Dies at 84

icon 14 Photos
Dorothy Lichtenstein and her beloved bouvier, Brutus.

Dorothy Lichtenstein and her beloved bouvier, Brutus.

Dorothy Lichtenstein. FILE PHOTO

Dorothy Lichtenstein. FILE PHOTO

Dorothy Lichtenstein and Robert Reeves. STAR BLACK

Dorothy Lichtenstein and Robert Reeves. STAR BLACK

Kathy and James Goodman, and Dorothy Lichtenstein. COURTESY KATHY GOODMAN

Kathy and James Goodman, and Dorothy Lichtenstein. COURTESY KATHY GOODMAN

Kathy Goodman and Dorothy Lichtenstein. COURTESY KATHY GOODMAN

Kathy Goodman and Dorothy Lichtenstein. COURTESY KATHY GOODMAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein at an Express Session event in January. DANA SHAW

Dorothy Lichtenstein at an Express Session event in January. DANA SHAW

Dorothy Lichtenstein in 2012. KEVIN RYAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein in 2012. KEVIN RYAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein in 2012. KEVIN RYAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein in 2012. KEVIN RYAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein in 2012. KEVIN RYAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein in 2012. KEVIN RYAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein in her Southampton studio. FRANK AVILA-GOLDMAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein in her Southampton studio. FRANK AVILA-GOLDMAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein in her Southampton studio. FRANK AVILA-GOLDMAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein in her Southampton studio. FRANK AVILA-GOLDMAN

Dorothy Lichtenstein and her dog, Brutus. TROY BUCKNER

Dorothy Lichtenstein and her dog, Brutus. TROY BUCKNER

Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein with

Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein with "Cup and Saucer I" (1976) and "Teapot on Stand" (1977) in their Southampton studio, 1977. COURTESY ESTATE OF ROY LICHTENSTEIN

Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein, 1977. COURTESY ESTATE OF ROY LICHTENSTEIN

Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein, 1977. COURTESY ESTATE OF ROY LICHTENSTEIN

authorMichelle Trauring on Jul 10, 2024

Kathy Goodman met Dorothy Lichtenstein in a variety of ways, though her first impression was always the same.

Whether it was at a party in an artist studio or in a professional setting, Lichtenstein was unfailingly radiant — strikingly beautiful, fun and effervescent. Just beneath the surface, Goodman would quickly learn, she was smart, hilarious, quirky and unusual, with a unique perspective on life that she had shared with her husband, pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Over the years, those qualities only broadened and deepened, Goodman said, as she watched her friend grow into the benefactor and champion of the arts that became her public persona — one defined by her generosity, compassion and empathy.

When she wasn’t fulfilling her philanthropic obligations, Lichtenstein shied away from the spotlight, often preferring the company of close friends and family, her gardens, books and pets to the glitz and glamour of the East End and beyond. She enjoyed deep conversations, offering advice where she could, and navigated her own periods of turmoil with elegance and grace.

To know her was to love and respect her, Goodman said, and that first impression Lichtenstein made is as vibrant today as it was then, over five decades ago.

“Without exaggeration, she was the most special person I’ve ever known,” Goodman said.

On Thursday, July 4, Lichtenstein died from complications of congenital heart disease at her home in Southampton, surrounded by her loved ones — including her stepsons, Mitchell and David, and Goodman. She was 84.

“I’m having real difficulty accepting that she’s gone,” her longtime friend said. “I keep reaching to call her.”

Born in 1939, Dorothy Herzka grew up in Brooklyn, attending Midwood High School before studying political science, with a minor in art history, at what was then Beaver College in Pennsylvania — since renamed Arcadia University.

Once she graduated, she moved back to New York and, in 1963, landed a job at the Paul Bianchini Gallery in New York, where she organized pop art exhibitions. A year later, the gallery staged the show “The American Supermarket,” which included work by Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann — and, of course, Roy Lichtenstein.

After the artist broke up with his then-girlfriend, they reconnected, she told Gagosian Quarterly in an interview in 2018, and an iconic relationship was born. The Lichtensteins were independent and yet completely intertwined, Mitchell Lichtenstein said. It was a true partnership.

“Dorothy was great at all the things my father was either not great at or didn’t want to do,” he said. “Dorothy was social and outgoing, and so as far as career and going out and what it entails to be a success, she, I believe, drove that, because she enjoyed it — up to a point. And he just always wanted to be back in the studio, working.”

They married in 1968 and, two years later, bought their home in Southampton. Here, she embraced the East End lifestyle, taking up horseback riding, gardening and landscape design. She would later become an antiques expert, tapped into yoga and spirituality — frequenting author Peter Matthiessen’s Ocean Zendo in Sagaponack — penned a cookbook, and honed her talent as a writer, Goodman said.

And with her husband’s sons, she enthusiastically stepped into the role of a maternal figure.

“She became a real mother over the years, and warm, very generous, just always knew the right thing to do,” Lichtenstein said. “I’m embarrassed to say that at my advanced age, too, I still came to her for advice.

“You just always knew you would get the best advice about pretty much anything from her,” he continued. “And I definitely was aware of it, it’s not like I suddenly realized what’s gone. I knew, if she ever left us, what would be missing.”

When his father died from pneumonia in 1997, his stepmother was thrust into the public eye as, now, the philanthropic heir of the estate, he said. She co-founded the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation and got to work, facilitating public access to the artist’s body of work, and supporting the arts and education as she could.

“She was a philanthropist the way one should be and not many are,” explained Robert Reeves, founder of the Stony Brook Southampton MFA in Creative Writing and Literature program. “She genuinely was generous. She was the most authentically generous person among people who are benefactors that I’ve ever met.”

On a national level, the organizations that Lichtenstein touched through the foundation are endless, but locally include Guild Hall, the Stony Brook Foundation, the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center, LongHouse Reserve, the Pollock-Krasner House & Study Center, and others.

In 2007, Terrie Sultan first met Lichtenstein during the Parrish Art Museum’s search for a new director and remained close during her 12-year tenure in the role.

“She quickly became a trusted and foundational ally in all aspects of the museum’s plans for the new building, and her support was transformational at all levels,” she said. “The museum could not have succeeded without her. This was largely because of her unwavering graciousness.

“As a friend, Dorothy was embracing,” she continued. “She welcomed me into her circle of friends and we shared many social lunches and evenings talking about our shared interests in art, nature, landscape and the importance of the cultural institutions here in the Hamptons.

“Her question was often, ‘How can I help?’”

There, her legacy lives on through the Lichtenstein Theater, the creation of the Dorothy Lichtenstein ArtsReach Fund with her friend Agnes Gund, and the long-term loan of Roy Lichtenstein’s “Tokyo Brushstrokes I and II” that are the iconic gateway symbol of the museum, Sultan said.

“Dorothy’s touch is everywhere one turns at the museum,” she said.

The same can be said of the Stony Brook Southampton Arts program, explained Reeves, who clearly remembers Lichtenstein approaching him after a college event featuring a conversation with comedian Mel Brooks and actress Anne Bancroft in 2003.

“Dorothy was take-your-breath-away gorgeous,” he said. “When she came up to me, and I was in this first-time position of leadership, she said, ‘I love your programs, I want to help. How do I help? What can I do?’ I said that always ruined me forever for fundraising.”

Lichtenstein became the program’s primary benefactor, allowing it to not only survive but thrive over the years, from its beginnings as part of Long Island University and through the transition when Stony Brook University took over the Southampton campus and integrated the arts program into its larger curriculum.

She was a partner, collaborator, counselor and friend, Reeves said, and provided what very few artists and academics receive: the freedom to invest in themselves and their vision, “a chance to control our own destiny, which is the most wonderful gift you can give to artists.”

And in honor of her dedication and enthusiasm, the university officially renamed the Southampton Arts program in 2022 — which is now known as the Lichtenstein Center.

“She didn’t really relish putting her name on things; I think she would have been happy not to,” Reeves said. “She and I both agreed that the arts were under attack, they were in retreat — certainly everywhere in the country today, it’s getting worse. The strategy was that lending her name would in some way — the hope, and maybe a fragile hope — help protect us in the world and it would help protect us in the university. And so it was really that, to see if her name could give us some clout.”

By using her name, it associated the arts program with “one of the most distinguished women in America and one of the most distinguished philanthropists,” Reeves said. It associated the program with a visionary, a lover of the arts and artists, and the joy she felt around them, he said.

For Magdalene Brandeis, executive director of the programs in film and television, she heard it through her wonderful laugh.

“It was so in her chest — the kind of laugh that had seen the incredible highs of life, but also its lows,” she said. “I heard her laugh and I thought, ‘Yeah, she was with Andy Warhol. She was with Roy Lichtenstein. She was in all these really high places.’ You could hear that in her laugh, like she was in the height of the art world.

“In the way she carried herself and the sound of her voice and the way she looked, all her history was in her, all that class was in her, all that wealth,” she continued, “but at the same time, I was just a student becoming faculty, and I never felt there was any hierarchy.”

In 2018, Lichtenstein decided to wind down the foundation and gift the majority of its collection to museums, embracing her own opinion on philanthropy: that nonprofits were not meant to last forever, Reeves said.

And just last year, she announced that she had met that goal, according to artist April Gornik.

She noted that Lichtenstein was instrumental in the transformation and founding of The Church in Sag Harbor, as well as supporting the rebuilding of the Sag Harbor Cinema in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It would be hard to find a better model of empathy and grace than Dorothy, and she will not soon be equaled,” Gornik said. “I really loved and looked up to Dorothy as a queen of a woman, a person of intellect and playfulness, and I am so grateful for her example of true generosity.”

In February, Lichtenstein found herself seated in the cinema, watching “Anselm,” her 3D glasses perched on her face. She was next to Bonnie Hoye, who was previously married to Troy Bucker, the son of Lichtenstein’s partner, sculptor Hal Buckner.

“Then we sat there and talked art after, it was really great — and that’s what Dorothy would do,” Hoye said. “She would take time and sit and talk about anything.”

Lichtenstein was a sponge, able to pick up right where she left off in many conversations, Troy Buckner said. She knew how to tell a story and, during the height of the pandemic, she would regale him with tales about her stepsons, her childhood in Brooklyn, and funny anecdotes about Roy, he recalled, while isolating at her home on Captiva Island in Florida.

“We would often go swimming in the Gulf of Mexico — it was more of a floating around and talking than a swim,” he said. “It was so great because she had a free flow of ideas. She was so relaxed out there.”

Her home in Southampton was an oasis, too — her walls no longer covered in art by her late husband, but rather pieces by friends and local artists, many that she bid on during benefit auctions when she saw they weren’t getting attention, Mitchell Lichtenstein said. It is also the space that she shared with her 100-plus-pound Bouvier, Brutus, who now lives with Troy Buckner.

“She just loved that smelly, big oaf of a dog. She did,” Goodman said. “I mean, he was so stinky and he was such a big mop and he was such a sweetheart. He was madly in love with her. They were madly in love.”

A couple of weeks ago, Goodman paid Lichtenstein and Brutus a visit, she said, knowing that her friend’s health was starting to decline. While they were sitting in the kitchen, she suggested they go outside and spend time in the gardens instead.

“And she said, ‘I know, they keep trying to get me to go outside and see the gardens, but I don’t want to.’ And I said, ‘Do you know why that is?’ and she burst out crying,” Goodman recalled. “And I knew from that, that I thought she was saying, ‘I’d feel too attached to them.’

“It was the right question to ask because she needed to have that moment, but she was buttoning it up.”

In the end, Lichtenstein was at peace, Goodman said. Other than her stepsons, Mitchell and David, she is survived by their spouses — Vincent Sanchez and Jennifer Moore, respectively — one grandson, Henry, and three nieces and a nephew.

“Her legacy is something in the area of just being sure to be your higher self, to be in conversation with your better angel,” Goodman said. “She was a model of that, and to me, that’s her legacy.”

On Monday night, after news of Lichtenstein’s death had circulated through the community, screenwriter Jennie Allen — associate director for the MFA in film at the Lichtenstein Center — reached out to Brandeis.

“The fireflies are lighting up in synchrony tonight, in honor of Dorothy,” she wrote. “If you’re near a wooded place, you may see them.”

You May Also Like:

Southampton Town Lifeguards Show Off Skills at Annual Mike Diveris Battle of Southampton Tournament

For this year’s annual Mike Diveris Memorial “Battle of Southampton” Lifeguard Tournament on July 17, ... 23 Jul 2024 by Drew Budd

Local Sailors Compete in 'World's Longest Sunfish' Race

In this year’s “World’s Longest Sunfish Race,” 67 competitors from 10 states outside of New ... by Michael Mella

HLA Hosts Third Annual Run-Swim-Run

After it was put off for a week because of poor weather, the Hampton Lifeguard ... by Drew Budd

HCBL Playoff Seeding Comes Down to Final Day of Regular Season

After 30-plus games played throughout the summer, the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League’s postseason will be ... by Drew Budd

Single Hooks Save Lives (and Hands)

If you read this column regularly you will know that I have for years been ... by MIKE WRIGHT

Waves of Grain

My friend brings me corn in the morning. He’s not yet in park when two of his guys are slipping out their doors and going for the burlap sacks. “Jesus,” he says to me, “we couldn’t find corn out there to save our lives.” I tell him it’s fine, and that I am okay without a delivery, but he insists, which, given his shortage, is generous. This year’s spring was cold. Most people can forget this, but farmers cannot. Those 40 degree nights are the reason the first planting matures only days before second planting. In some cases, three plantings ... by Marilee Foster

Teenager Wins 28th Annual Montauk Lighthouse Triathlon

A teenager won this year’s Montauk Lighthouse Triathlon. Matteo Somma, a 17-year-old from Malverne, beat ... by Drew Budd

North Haven Will Seek To Screen Neighbors From Pickleball Noise

To some people, it’s the whine of a speedboat zooming across the bay early in ... by Stephen J. Kotz

Class Rank and Staffing Challenges Discussed at Latest Sag Harbor Board of Education Meeting

At its annual organizational meeting on July 15, the Sag Harbor Board of Education discussed ... by Cailin Riley

Sheer Chaos

Nearly half the population is mesmerized by a piece of evil named Donald Trump who, when he speaks, which is far too often, does little but lie and think almost entirely of himself, and denies all his crimes and ignores the science of global warming, which is everywhere in evidence in the wildfires out west and in Canada, not to mention in the rest of the world — and now wants to be president, even after a large group of historians has judged him to be the worst of them all so far. He wants to be a dictator only ... 22 Jul 2024 by Anthony Brandt