Jerry Rappaport Dies at 94

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Kit Noble

JEROME LYLE RAPPAPORT | August 17, 1927 – December 6, 2021

The city of Boston lost one of its most devoted stewards in the early hours of December 6, 2021 when Jerome “Jerry” Lyle Rappaport passed away peacefully at the age of 94 in the loving company of his wife of 41 years, Phyllis. A Harvard-educated lawyer, pioneer developer and visionary philanthropist, Rappaport was a longtime Nantucket homeowner who transformed prestigious institutions, historic political reforms and entire city blocks in Greater Boston that still bear his fingerprints.

Committed to a myriad of philanthropic causes, he and his wife Phyllis championed breakthrough medical research, enriched academic and cultural arts institutions, and empowered generations of emerging leaders. The father of ten children, grandfather of sixteen, and great grandfather of thirteen, Rappaport achieved a lot during his nine decades of life while remaining ever committed to his family.

Born in the Bronx on August 17, 1927, Rappaport was the proud son of Romanian Jewish immigrants who had carved out their own piece of the American Dream by opening a successful retail store where young Jerry learned the meaning of hard work. Despite being a child of soaring intellect, Rappaport was a troublemaker in elementary school until a teacher discovered that he simply needed his energy channeled into more challenging subject matter. She turned him on to studying Latin America and by the fourth grade he was the foremost expert on the topic in the Bronx public school system. By the sixth grade, after his father moved the family to Manhattan, Rappaport actually delivered lectures on Latin America to the rest of the student body at the behest of his teachers. Outside of the classroom, the eleven-year-old competed in Kid Wizards, a New York City-wide radio show where he dominated questions on science, history and geography.

Rappaport proceeded to hopscotch through high school, skipping grades until the age of sixteen when he was accepted into an experimental joint program at Harvard College that allowed him to pursue his undergrad studies and law degree concurrently beginning in 1944. Despite being one of the youngest students at Harvard Law, Rappaport created the Harvard Law School Forum to host prominent speakers who would expose law students to real-world issues. The Harvard Law School Forum was broadcasted statewide over the radio and became the longest running law school speaker series in the country, featuring figures such as John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Martin Luther King Jr. over the years.

Graduating Harvard Law at the age of twenty-one, Rappaport was enlisted by Boston mayoral hopeful John Hynes to help run his campaign against James Michael Curley, the hugely controversial four-term mayor whom Hynes had briefly replaced while he was serving a jail sentence for mail fraud. Rappaport succeeded in galvanizing the youth vote behind Hynes and helped secure his triumphant victory. After the election, Rappaport became one of Hynes’ chief assistants in the mayor’s office and was appointed to a three-man committee tasked with reorganizing and restructuring city government. Central to that mission was the creation of a planning department that developed a master plan of the city.

Working outside of the mayor’s office, Rappaport turned to the army of young people he organized behind Hynes to form the New Boston Committee, a broad-based citizens organization that represented all twenty-two wards in Greater Boston. The New Boston Committee became a mighty political force that helped elect five out of the nine city council members and four out of the five school committee seats in 1951. At just twenty-four years old, Rappaport had effectively altered the face of city government. This did not go unnoticed. A year after John F. Kennedy was awarded the prize, Rappaport was named Massachusetts’ Most Outstanding Young Leader.

After three years, Rappaport left city government and started his own law firm that literally brought Boston to new heights by achieving the first height variations in the city, giving rise to new fifteen-story towers in historic neighborhoods like the Back Bay. Yet, his most history-making development came with Boston’s West End. Over the course of decades, he and his partners completed arguably the most ambitious development project in Massachusetts history known as Charles River Park, which revitalized the city by luring thousands of people and jobs back from the suburbs.

Beyond Charles River Park, Rappaport’s most far-reaching achievements came in the forms of philanthropy. With the help of his wife Phyllis, whom he wed in 1980, Rappaport began his philanthropic endeavors by establishing a modest $100,000 grant at Harvard Medical School to support graduates pursuing Alzheimer’s research. Inspired by his mother who perished at the hands of the disease, the grant became the seed of a multi-decade campaign now rooted in the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, which Phyllis and Jerry co-founded with two other families. Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has awarded more than $130 million in research grants since 2004.

In the early 1980s, Rappaport endowed Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to set up a fellowship designed for elected city and state officials from the city of Boston to attend a master’s program. The Rappaport Boston Urban Fellowship reflected Rappaport’s longtime mission of connecting academics with politicians, believing that both parties had much to learn from one another. With such notable participants as Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch and Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, the fellowship has been in existence for thirty-five years and has improved the relationship between Harvard and the city governments of Boston and Cambridge.

In 1997, he and Phyllis established the Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation, which was designed to promote emerging leaders in public policy, science and the arts. Through the Rappaport Institute at the Kennedy School of Government and the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy at Boston College Law School, they’ve supported more than 550 public policy fellows who have gone on to make tremendous impacts while holding prestigious positions in government. The most noteworthy example of late is the newly elected Boston Mayor Michelle Wu who is a Rappaport Center Law and Public Policy Fellow alumna.

The Rappaports’ partnerships with Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have empowered more than seventy research fellows in addressing some of the most confounding afflictions to mental health. Last summer, McLean Hospital announced the Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Center of Excellence in Basic Neuroscience Research, which represented a doubling down on their decades-long support of emerging researchers who are seeking cures for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and other mental illnesses.

In 2000, the Rappaports established one of the country’s most significant contemporary art prizes. Encouraged by his daughter Jill Glist, Rappaport partnered with the deCordova Sculpture and Park Museum in their hometown of Lincoln, Massachusetts to create the Rappaport Prize, which bestows transformative awards on contemporary artists who are connected with New England. In 2010, the Rappaport Foundation funded the prize into perpetuity. Most recently, the Rappaports have expanded their impact in the cultural arts by providing grants to the country’s most promising young composers.

Rappaport pursued his personal passions with the same vigor as his professional ones. As a gentleman farmer, he spent four decades breeding award-winning dairy cows, including a prized Holstein named Mist that sold at auction for a record-setting $1.3 million. An avid golfer, he played the game till the very end of his life, and forever savored the memory of winning the Nor’easter Golf Tournament on the challenging fairways of Nantucket Golf Club alongside his son Jerry Jr. at the age of 88. Above all, Rappaport cherished the four decades he spent with his wife Phyllis, traveling around the world, supporting each other’s ambitions, and spending time with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in their homes in Stuart, Florida, Lincoln, and Nantucket.

Accompanying Phyllis, Jerry Rappaport is survived by their children Martha Meyers and husband William Meyers; Amy Arambula and husband Juan Arambula; Margaret Joy Weaver; Jim Rappaport and wife Cecelia Rappaport; Jerry Rappaport, Jr. and wife Lori Rappaport; Nancy Rappaport and husband Colin Flavin; Elizabeth Jackson Rappaport; Sara Scott Rappaport; Jill Rapaport Glist and husband Adam Glist; Jonathan Rapaport and wife Sarah Rapaport; and Andrew Sears.

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