Robert Shapiro '52
Robert Shapiro '52

The Greatest Friend

Robert Shapiro ’52, H’92, who recently died at age 81, was involved with Brandeis University when it was only the dream of his father, Abraham, and some Boston friends who envisioned a new, nondenominational university with a Jewish identity. With much hard work and dedication, they founded Brandeis in 1948.

After many years in the background, Robert, the youngest of eight children, emerged as a tireless and devoted supporter of the university. And we are not just talking about the many financial contributions he and his family made to Brandeis, but about his decades-long service on the board of trustees. He hardly ever missed a meeting, even when he was wracked by illness, and never missed a celebratory occasion. A few days before he died, he was reviewing the materials for the next board meeting. And then there was his devotion to the Class of 1952, Brandeis’ pioneering first class. His best friends were some of his classmates.

Robert was a highly cultured but understated individual with great sensitivity toward the people around him. Helping others was a cardinal precept for the Shapiro family. In his later years, he studied and became a chaplain to help people more effectively as they aged. He also took over the responsibility of running his family’s charitable foundation and set it on a creative course. 

He married Valya Kazes ’61, a beautiful, multilingual Wien Scholar from Turkey, and had two devoted and talented sons, Bram and Stephen. He was in love with the Yiddish language and would regale his friends with a torrent of Yiddishisms.

An integral part of his personality was his enormous attention to hospitality. Friends had to taste his fantastic new wine or sip his perfectly made martinis. He was incredulous if someone did not like his martinis. He was always in search of the perfect waiter — not too remote or condescending and certainly not too chummy or presumptuous. If the waiter used Robert’s first name, the meal was wrecked. In a dining room, if Robert was seated facing a wall, the meal could become a disaster. But he was far from being an elitist snob, for within a few minutes he would inquire about the waiter’s background, his health, his ethnicity and his life experiences. Robert had aristocratic tastes but the integrity of a democrat.

He faced death with great courage and nobility. He was devoted to his beautiful family and his grandchildren and was the greatest friend a person could have. We will miss him deeply, and we are heartbroken that he will miss his 60th Reunion in June.

— Gus Ranis ’52, H’82, and Ed Stavis ’52

Gus Ranis is a trustee emeritus and Ed Stavis is a member of the Board of Fellows.

Alex Barkas ’68 with Marli Mesibov ’06, Helene Lowenfels ’05, Aaron Rifkind ’05 and Meron Langsner, M.F.A.’04
Alex Barkas ’68 with Marli Mesibov ’06, Helene Lowenfels ’05, Aaron Rifkind ’05 and Meron Langsner, M.F.A.’04

Trustee, Art Lover, Mentor, Friend

Brandeis trustee Alex Barkas ’68 truly loved life and certainly lived his to the fullest. He devoted himself to his family, career and alma mater, including his beloved Rose Art Museum.

When I first came to Brandeis and began my journey with the Student Committee at the Rose Art Museum (Scram), Alex generously supported many of the events I organized. His mission was simple: He wanted to bring students into the museum to enjoy themselves and to experience our world-class art collection — just as he had during his days as a Brandeis student. And he wanted us to have fun! Those were his words.

His financial support of Scram every semester enabled us to put on a series of exciting, well-attended events. Scram threw some of the best parties at Brandeis in the most unusual environment — and we served free beer! Alex loved it. Each time I reviewed the evening’s events with him, he listened with earnest excitement, as if he were living vicariously. Alex and I communicated often by email and always saw each other on his visits to campus. His level of involvement really struck me: Here he was, a trustee of the university and a busy venture capitalist with a full schedule, yet he always made time to see me, an undergraduate student.

Even after I graduated from Brandeis, Alex and I kept in close touch. The last time I saw him, during one of his visits to New York, we reminisced about Scram and Brandeis, and he told me all about the wonderful programs and developments on campus. We discussed his collection of aboriginal art and photography. We talked about my career and he gave me sound advice. But the biggest smile that came over his face was when he showed me pictures of his young daughters, Alina and Johanna.

Summing up my relationship with Alex in a few hundred words is impossible. His name is synonymous with my Brandeis experience, and I will always cherish having known him. Whenever we sat together and talked, I felt like I was in the presence of greatness. I will keep him and his family in my heart.

— Helene Lowenfels ’05

Helene Lowenfels is a cataloger and researcher at Arader Galleries and the founder of NYC Art Tours.