Benedict Silverman, aged 87, died Sunday morning in Danbury, CT, surrounded by loving family. Philanthropist, art collector, real estate magnate, and patriarch, Silverman forged his successes with the exuberance of a man who loved life and lived it fully. From humble beginnings he made his world extraordinary by his stellar accomplishments, and by his indelible impact on all who knew and loved him.
In view of all his achievements, Silverman was perhaps proudest of his philanthropic legacy. He launched the Benedict Silverman Foundation in collaboration with his wife Jayne, advancing the cause of child literacy through the pioneering Reading Rescue tutoring method. This program helps students achieve benchmark reading levels, and is now implemented in more than 100 New York City public schools.
Guided by his preternatural eye and his passion for beauty, Silverman and his late wife Gerry Lou built a preeminent collection of German and Austrian Expressionist art, including masterpieces by Egon Schiele and Otto Dix, as well as Art Nouveau furniture and Louis Comfort Tiffany glass. Privileging intimacy and the joy art brought him, he kept a dynamic collection of only those works he chose to surround him in the Art Nouveau penthouse in New York that he built atop a property once owned by William Randolph Hearst. His dealer and collaborator Richard Nagy wrote of him, “Despite him having only one good eye, he was, as they say, in the land of the blind the one eyed man who was king. Benedict was such a king. … His reactions were always instinctive but based on knowledge. When he found a work that engaged him he acted with alacrity. With his one eye he had an infallibility of taste and quality that I have never found with any other.”
Neither his philanthropic nor collecting endeavors would have flourished to such scale, however, without his self-made success in business. He transformed himself many times, from struggling attorney, to coin-laundry owner, to mortgage broker, and finally, real estate mogul. Silverman earned his legendary status among commercial real estate developers in the late 1970s, when he helped pioneer the “sale leaseback” strategy that enabled chains including Walmart and KMart to expand their business despite the double-digit interest rates of that period. Silverman and others devised a method wherein businesses would sell their retail properties, and then lease these spaces back from the new owner. In so doing they freed up necessary capital, while providing stable investments for pension funds and life insurance companies. Silverman worked alongside his son Jonathan for 38 years; where other fathers and sons might have shared a love of baseball, Silverman and his son had shopping centers.
Finally, there are those achievements against which he measured himself, fueled by a relentless drive for self-improvement expressed through a love of reading, opera, and fitness. (His daily exercise regime included 22 chin-ups, a capacity he would be pleased to know still exceeds that of his grandchildren.) He remained a lifelong fan of the Gators football team of the University of Florida, his alma mater for both undergraduate college and law school.
Silverman is survived by his wife Jayne Bentzen; his children Jill Hunter, Jonathan, and Claire McCormack; seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren; and his beloved younger sisters Diana Treister and Gloria Pass. His late wife Gerry Lou Rose Silverman, mother to Jill and Jonathan, passed away in 1985.
His outstanding vigor, zest, and competitive spirit were unmatched in men half his age. Among his vast glossary of idioms, many too profane to print, one stands out in these days of mourning: He who dies with the most, wins. Benedict, you won.
A funeral service will take place on Wednesday December 7, 2016 at the Temple Sholom at 10:30 am on 122 Kent Rd., New Milford, CT. Internment will follow in Sandisfield, MA. Arrangements by the Lillis Funeral Home, 58 Bridge Street, New Milford, CT.