Tuesday, February 20, 2007

George Trescher

In Memoriam. 6/6/03 - George Trescher died yesterday noon here in New York after a long battle with declining health. He was seventy-seven this past April 2. Not a famous name, George was a stalwart, stellar figure in the community and most definitely famous among the famous. Professionally he was in the business of fundraising and party planning (but only the most extraordinary parties).

His work was associated with the ballet, the Library, the Met, the Municipal Art Society, to name only a few of his longtime clients. 12

Through his keen strategizing, over the past thirty-five years, he raised hundreds of millions of dollars for these and other important cultural and philanthropic causes.

I first heard of him in 1990 when I was researching a project on the Cushing sisters – Mrs. Paley, Mrs. Fosburgh and Mrs. Whitney. No matter whom I came across as a source, everyone would finally say: “you should talk to George Trescher,” always adding, “… if he’ll talk to you."

It turned out to be more than a pretty big “if.” For although George was always polite and courteous (although at times curtly), he never would “talk” to me. In time I learned that that was George: he knew everything about everybody and he was very discreet. In time I learned that it was a matter of decorum and aesthetics. And loyalty.

When he did impart knowledge and information, he knew to whom he was imparting. His good friend Liz Smith, who came to New York at just about the same time George did more than fifty years ago, told friends yesterday that she called him “7 times a day” for details and information about individuals she was reporting on because his knowledge about the players was encyclopedic.

He was a California boy. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. He saw the island of Manhattan for the first time from the shores of New Jersey when he was in the Navy during the Second World War, serving first in the Pacific and then the Caribbean. He told me not long ago that the first sight of the city did it to him. He said aloud to himself: “that’s where I’m going to live.”

He had arrived in New York at a seminal time in the city’s history, a time of the changing of the guard technologically, politically and socially. A mecca for the world looking for a better life, after the war the city became a mecca for young Americans with dreams of a big life.

He worked for TIME, Inc for nineteen years, on the publishing side of LIFE and Sports Illustrated, handling a variety of assignments. When it came time for the Metropolitan Museum of Art to plan its centennial, George was hired to conceive, plan and execute the Museum’s eighteen-month celebration.

A tall, wiry man, with smiling Irish eyes, he could be nettlesome, with a bark that could threaten to bite for he was a tireless worker with very high standards and expected as much from those around him. There was a right way and a wrong way, and it was the former that George expected and delivered. An event produced by George Trescher Associates meant that it was important. It also meant that it was successful.

Some of his benefits included 16 “Cabarets” for New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center, 20 benefits for the Municipal Art Society, including the reopening of the New York Stock Exchange, 14 consecutive Fetes de Famille which raised more than $6 million for the AIDS Care Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and Brooke Astor’s 90th birthday celebration which benefited the Citizens Committee for New York City, and was at the time, just about the most highly sought after social invitation of the year.

George’s talents and abilities were also employed privately for very special occasions and special people. When Caroline Kennedy married Edwin Schlossberg, Mrs. Onassis asked George to organize the event and to organize and control the media coverage. When Mrs. Onassis died, he did the same for her funeral. It should be noted that George in life would never have allowed either matter to be public knowledge.

Although he was a gregarious fellow, with a big sense of humor, George did not lend his professional approval casually. One had to prove oneself. I know this from experience. From the outset of my career as a social reporter and chronicler, although he was always accessible and helpful, I was aware of a certain reserve on his part. That changed only a few years ago, and I came to see that George’s professional respect was earned the old fashioned way (you worked for it).

On his off-hours for years he kept a weekend house in Old Lyme and a summer house in Quoque. He loved entertaining and being entertained. He loved all kinds of people and all ages, and of course, he knew everybody, as they say. He loved musicals and knew the lyrics to so many of the great American popular songs. During the past few months, when he’d been ailing, I was given his subscription seat at the Encores Evenings at City Center. Peter Rogers, an old friend who had the seat next to George said the only problem with seeing a show with George was that he sang along with the performers.

He was in bad shape from respiratory ailments in the past couple of years. A couple of months ago his condition required hospitalization. Many who knew him thought that the end had come. George, however, tenacious and resilient, was unwilling to give in and he fought on. Peter Rogers and Liz Smith went to see him on Tuesday. Peter noticed that that “edge” to George’s approach to his illness, was gone, that he was “serene” and he suspected that George had made a decision.

He had that big life that us kids dream about when we dream about New York. It had been love at first sight for George. It was a love that lasted a lifetime, and New York will not be the same without him.