Melville Straus, a longtime champion of Guild Hall as its chairman and a distinguished and successful businessman, died after a long illness with brain cancer on Thursday in New York City. Mr. Straus, who was known as Mickey, was 75.
For many years, he and his wife, Leila, spent summers and weekends in a beautiful residence filled with local artists (great and unknown) set on Hook Pond in East Hampton. He joined Guild Hall's board in 1992 and became chairman three years later. The founder and chief programmer of the cultural center's Hamptons Institute, he led Guild Hall's $14 million capital campaign for the renovations of its building and grounds, which were completed in 2009. He retired last year.
"Since my first meeting with Mickey Straus 15 years ago, he was my best friend," Ruth Appelhof, Guild Hall's director, said on Monday. "He was mentor, sage, magician, pied piper and visionary. He made Guild Hall the vibrant institution it is today."
Barbara Jo Howard, the director of marketing and public relations, recalled his "joyful love of the arts, a kind and sincerely generous heart, and a genuine respect for all people. He was a very rare and special person."
After graduating from Dartmouth College and Harvard University, where he received an M.B.A. and was a Baker Scholar, he had a long career in the investment industry and since 1998 has been head of Straus Asset Management. In addition to Guild Hall, he has served as a board or committee member of many arts-related institutions. These include the American Ballet Theater, Museum of Modern Art, Independent Curators, Inc., and American Friends of the Royal Ballet School. He was also a member of the Dartmouth President's Leadership Council and of the Board of Visitors at the John Sloan Dickey Center. He served previously on the Board of Overseers of the Hopkins Center/Hood Museum at Dartmouth and the Dartmouth Alumni Council.
He leaves behind his wife, three children: Scott Straus of Madison, Wisc., Alexandra Straus of Los Angeles, and Ben of New York City, and two grandchildren. Two sisters, Margie Stein of San Diego and Mary Straus of Tucson, and a brother, John Straus of Denver, also survive him.
A private memorial service will be held on Thursday. A full obituary will appear in this week's Star.