William Beinecke, Patron of Central Park and Yale, Dies at 103


Mr. Beinecke died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 103.

Mr. Beinecke lived in New Jersey for much of his life — he grew up in Cranford and raised his family in Summit — but he had a lifelong connection to New York. His paternal grandfather, Bernhard Beinecke, was a German immigrant and entrepreneur who built the Plaza Hotel, at the southeast corner of Central Park. Mr. Beinecke wrote that one of his earliest memories was of watching from his family’s 12th-floor suite at the Plaza as returning veterans from World War I paraded up Fifth Avenue.

His professional life likewise had a family connection. Mr. Beinecke spent his career at the Sperry & Hutchinson Company, which his maternal grandfather, William Sperry Miller, founded with a partner in 1896. The company became well-known for its Green Stamps, which customers earned by shopping at participating gasoline stations and grocery stores and could trade in for rewards.

S & H, as the company was known, benefited greatly from the rise of the suburban middle class after World War II. Mr. Beinecke, who served as the company’s chairman and chief executive in the 1960s and ′70s, took the company public in 1966 and diversified its holdings into furniture and other businesses.

Mr. Beinecke saw his business and philanthropic endeavors as sharing a common purpose, and embraced the idea of corporate social responsibility long before that phrase became fashionable. That impulse led him to wage a decades-long campaign to persuade Yale University to create a business school, which he saw as a way for the university to engage with — and help shape — the rise of corporations as a force in American civic life.

The proposal initially faced opposition from some at the university, who saw it as a distraction from Yale’s core liberal arts mission. But Mr. Beinecke and his allies eventually prevailed, and the Yale School of Management opened in 1976, with the Beineckes as major benefactors.

“In my 30-odd years in business, few things have surprised and disappointed me more than the attitude many businessmen have about the world beyond their business and their careers,” Mr. Beinecke said in a speech in 1983 commemorating the founding of the school. “Even men of the highest capacity will, without regret, limit themselves to a two-course curriculum — they major in bottom-line and minor in golf.”

William Sperry Beinecke was born on May 22, 1914, in New York City, to Frederick W. Beinecke and the former Carrie Sperry.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, in economics, from Yale and a law degree from Columbia University, he joined the Navy as the United States was preparing to enter World War II. He went on to serve on destroyers in the Atlantic and Pacific, and left the Navy as a lieutenant commander.

Weeks before he was called to active duty in 1941, Mr. Beinecke married the former Elizabeth Gillespie. She died in 2009. Mr. Beinecke is survived by two sons, Frederick and John; two daughters, Frances Beinecke and Sarah Beinecke Richardson; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

When he returned from the war, Mr. Beinecke briefly practiced law before joining Sperry & Hutchinson as general counsel in 1951. At S & H, he helped fight efforts in several states to restrict or ban Green Stamps and similar rewards programs as anticompetitive.

He retired in 1980 and embarked on what amounted to a second career in philanthropy. Besides his work for Central Park and Yale, where Mr. Beinecke was a trustee, he was the founding chairman of the Hudson River Foundation and served on the boards of the New York Botanical Garden and the American Museum of Natural History. The Prospect Hill Foundation, which Mr. and Mrs. Beinecke created in 1959, has supported programs in the environment and nuclear nonproliferation, among other causes.

Active until the end of his life, Mr. Beinecke had lunch the week before his death with recipients of a scholarship he endowed at Columbia Law School; he had a series of social engagements planned for the following week. His daughter Frances said that on the day he died, Mr. Beinecke had a bow tie selected for his weekly bridge game at the Yale Club.

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