Richard Abrons

From his NY Times Obituary, September 19, 2019

As a boy, he met the famed institution’s founder, Lillian Wald, and became a benefactor. In midcareer, he traded Wall Street investing for writing short stories and plays.

Richard Abrons, whose destitute, widowed grandmother was rescued by the social reformer Lillian Wald, and who decades later returned the favor by becoming a major benefactor of Wald’s Henry Street Settlement, a storied social services agency on the Lower East Side, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 92.

The cause was kidney failure, his wife, Iris Abrons, said.

An investment manager who later turned to writing short stories and plays, Mr. Abrons and his family underwrote Henry Street’s arts classes and college scholarships; expanded its social services, including those for the homeless; helped the settlement acquire what became known as the Boys and Girls Republic community center; and transformed vacant lots adjacent to the settlement’s original building into Martin Luther King Jr. Community Park.

He was said to have been the only person to have known every one of Henry Street’s executive directors since the settlement was founded.

Mr. Abrons was president of the Henry Street Settlement from 1985 to 1995, a board member for 52 years and vice chairman of the board at his death.

He remained a limited partner in First Manhattan Company, an investment firm he had formed with colleagues in 1964, but had gravitated toward a second career as a writer.

In 1991, he earned a master’s in fine arts from New York University. He published nearly two dozen short stories and also wrote plays.

Among the stories was “Every Day a Visitor,” which appeared in The North American Review and won the National Magazine Fiction Award in 1981. It was published in an anthology called “Every Day a Visitor” in 1996, and was adapted into a play performed by the New Federal Theater company at the McGinn/Cazale Theater in Manhattan in 2001. The characters are residents of a Bronx retirement home who emulate politicians and celebrities.

In a review in The New York Times, Lawrence Van Gelder wrote that the play “strikes a praiseworthy blow for the individuality of the elderly.”

“In an effort to rouse themselves from the dispiriting circumstances of their remaining lives,” Mr. Van Gelder continued, “these elderly people decide that since they cannot change their retirement home they will empower themselves.”

Reviewing Mr. Abrons’s comedy “The Brothers Berg,” performed at the Here Arts Theater in Lower Manhattan in 2000, Bruce Weber of The Times wrote that the speeches by the character Morris exhibit “a modest gift for the kind of withering self-deprecation and eloquent tactlessness that we’ve come to associate with unhappy men of letters.”

NFT Credits

Credit Type Production Season
PlaywrightThe Brothers Berg 1999-00 Season
PlaywrightEvery Day a Visitor 2000-01 Season
PlaywrightWhose Family Values 2002-03 Season
PlaywrightEvery Day a Visitor (2013) 2013-14 Season