2019 in memoriam: Lives lost, legends to remember

Remembering the New York industry players who died over the past 12 months

TRD New York /
Dec.December 26, 2019 07:00 AM
From left: Barron Hilton, I M Pei, Jay Kriegel and Burt Resnick (Credit: Wikipedia, Getty Images, Adam Pincus)

From left: Barron Hilton, I M Pei, Jay Kriegel and Burt Resnick (Credit: Wikipedia, Getty Images, Adam Pincus)

This year, the real estate industry said goodbye to some of its legends and adversaries, and mourned the loss of others whose lives came to an abrupt end.

Earlier this month, Burt Resnick, who headed major landlord Jack Resnick & Sons, died at the age of 83, marking a changing of the guard within one of the premier families of New York real estate. His son, Jonathan Resnick, the firm’s president, will lead the business going forward.

Other legendary real estate players lost this year include hotel magnate Barron Hilton, who died in September at 91, and Jay Kriegel, who had lengthy careers in the public and private sectors, most recently as a senior adviser at Related Companies. He died this fall at 79 from cancer.

Also in December, Paul Volcker, the former head of the Federal Reserve who was derided by the industry for pushing up interest rates to curb inflation, died. He was 92 and is remembered as a driving force behind the 1980s’ 22 percent interest rates and what the industry saw as the “burdensome” Volcker Rule, which was enacted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to curtail risky bank lending.

This July, Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, the country’s largest building services union with over 175,000 members, died of a heart attack at the age of 57. Under his leadership, the union in 2017 secured a deal to guarantee that building service workers would be paid prevailing wages in some affordable housing buildings. Just before his death, Figueroa stood with the real estate industry in opposition to June’s sweeping changes to the rent law.

The industry also lost several famous designers this year. Architect I.M. Pei died in May at the age of 102. He was the mind behind the Louvre pyramid, the Javits Center and the Museum of Islamic Art. Also, prolific Brooklyn architect Karl Fischer died at 70. His best known work includes a condo conversion of the Gretsch Factory, Schaefer Landing on the Williamsburg waterfront and multifamily buildings on Bayard Street known as “Karl Fischer Row.” Acclaimed architect César Pelli, whose firm designed projects such as Brookfield Place and the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, died in July at the age of 92.

Finally, HelmselySpear assistant vice president Jimmy Javier, a long-time commercial broker who worked in the industry for more than three decades, died at 72. And veteran commercial real estate attorney Gerald Morganstern, who was most recently at Goetz Fitzpatrick, died at 76.

Suzanne Whang, a former host of “House Hunters” on HGTV, and Rolan Shnayder, a partner and senior loan officer at Citizens Bank, both lost their bouts with cancer this year. Whang, who was also an actor, died from the disease in September at 56 years old, USA Today reported. Shnayder succumbed to pancreatic cancer in March at the age of 44 after a six-month battle that co-worker Ace Watanasuparp, an executive vice president at Citizens, said inspired many.

“Throughout his fight against pancreatic cancer, we saw the real estate community come together as one,” he said, “and really support not only the awareness of pancreatic cancer but Rolan and his fight to beat this horrible disease.”

There were also unexpected, tragic deaths that shocked and pained loved ones, colleagues and peers.

Albert Behin, founder of BIG Investors, died at 43 from a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico with his family.

Real estate entrepreneur turned YouTube star Grant Thompson died at 38 in a paragliding accident in Utah.

Brooklyn real estate agent Patricia Lancaster of Fillmore Real Estate died in a car crash at the age of 63.

Michael Collopy, a sales agent with City Connections Realty, died at 60 after being struck by a bicycle in a hit-and-run accident near his office.

Jennifer Irigoyen, a 35-year-old broker and human resources manager at Crosstown Apartments, was stabbed to death outside her apartment in Ridgewood, Queens. She was five months pregnant. Her ex-boyfriend, Anthony Hobson, turned himself in and was charged with her murder, the New York Post reported.

Write to Erin Hudson at [email protected]

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