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Guide to the Elizabeth and Felix G. Rohatyn Papers
Circa 1900?-2017 (bulk 1975-2012)
 MS 3015

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on December 04, 2018
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical/Historical Note

Felix George Rohatyn was born on 29 May 1928 in Vienna, Austria. His family moved to France in 1935 where his parents divorced and his mother remarried. Rohatyn and his mother (Edith Plessner) and his step-father (Henry Plessner), all Jews, narrowly escaped Nazi-occupied France in 1940. With the intervention of Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas, the Brazilian ambassador to France, the family eventually moved to Brazil. In June 1942, the family arrived in New York City. Beginning in 1944, Rohatyn attended Middlebury College in Vermont. He returned to France briefly in 1947 to reunite with his father at his brewing business, but then returned to America to graduate in 1949 from Middlebury with a degree in physics. Rohatyn's stepfather's acquaintance with André Meyer, the head of the investment banking firm Lazard Frères, led to Felix joining the firm in 1949, setting the course of his professional life in finance.

Rohatyn became a U.S. citizen in May 1950. His initial assignments for Lazard had him working for affiliated firms in Europe, but these were interrupted when Rohatyn was drafted into the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953. He went through basic training at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, and the Army Intelligence School at Fort Riley, Kansas. Assigned to the 28th Infantry Division, Rohatyn was sent to Germany at the rank of sergeant and with the title of Order of Battle Specialist. At the conclusion of his military service, he returned to Lazard, working first in Europe and then joining the New York office in 1955, where he would remain until 1997. In 1956, Rohatyn married Jeannette Streit, an interpreter who worked on the United Nations staff. They would have three sons together: Pierre, Nicolas and Michael.

By the early 1960s, Rohatyn was a partner at Lazard, working as an investment banker with mergers and acquisitions. The nature of this work led him beyond Lazard, taking positions on the Boards of firms he advised, such as ITT, and positions supporting the financial industry more generally, such as being on the New York Stock Exchange's Board of Governors (1968-72). This expanding network eventually led, in 1975, to Rohatyn being asked by New York Governor Hugh Carey to bring his expertise to bear on the fiscal crisis faced by New York City. As part of the rescue initiative, a new entity, the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC) was formed, and Rohatyn was named its Chairman within a few months of its creation. Rohatyn helped lead the effort to manage New York's brush with bankruptcy through 1975 and then through the following years as the city's finances stabilized and strengthened. Rohatyn stayed on with MAC until 1993 when he stepped down as Chairman.

In 1979, Rohatyn married his second wife, Elizabeth (née Fly). Elizabeth was born in 1930 in Memphis. She had been previously married twice and had a daughter, Nina, from her first marriage. Through the 1980s, the Rohatyns expanded their philanthropic activities, including support for the I Have a Dream Foundation (the 1986 cohort of students in the program is known as the "Rohatyn cohort") and with Elizabeth joining the Board of Trustees of the New York Public Library in 1985. In 1994, Elizabeth founded Teaching Matters Inc. (TMI), a not-for-profit organization aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of teachers and school administrators, especially with respect to the integration of technology into schools.

In April 1997, Felix resigned from Lazard and a few months later was named by President Bill Clinton to the position of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to France. He and Elizabeth moved to Paris where they served until December 2000. Near the conclusion of Rohatyn's tenure as ambassador, Elizabeth founded a new organization, the French Regional & American Museum Exchange (FRAME). The mission of the organization was, and is, to develop U.S.-France cultural exchanges in the context of museum collaborations for exhibitions, education programs, and the like. Elizabeth served as Co-Founding Co-President of FRAME, along with Francoise Cachin, who was then the Director of the Musées de France.

Returning to America in 2001, Felix formed an advisory firm, Rohatyn Associates LLC, and also served on the Boards of various business interests and policy groups, such as the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). During the early 2000s, he more fully developed as an advocate for government investment in America's infrastructure, a theme he elaborated in his book Bold Endeavors: How Our Government Built America, and Why It Must Rebuild Now (2009). He also wrote a memoir,  Dealings: A Political and Financial Life (2010), of his career in finance, reflecting on his early career, his work in mergers and acquisitions for Lazard, and New York City's crisis year of 1975. He returned to Lazard in 2010 as an adviser to Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth M. Jacobs.

Elizabeth had been named Chairman of the New York Public Library in November 1995, and returned to America in 2001 to continue her active involvement on the Board as Chairman Emeritus. She also continued her active engagement with Teaching Matters, FRAME, and other organizations. Elizabeth died in 2016.

(The above note was based on various sources including, among others, Felix Rohatyn's memoir Dealings; the Wikipedia entry for Rohatyn; the websites for FRAME and for Teaching Matters; the  New York Times obituary for Elizabeth; and documents in the collection.)