Robert L. Wechsler, 85, a successful businessman and longtime former resident of East Hampton, died of leukemia in his Manhattan apartment on Nov. 18. He had been ill for several years.
Mr. Wechsler was born in New York on May 30, 1928, to Abraham Wechsler and the former Pauline Halpern. He attended the Ethical Culture-Fieldston Schools and Yale University before graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College.
After college, he enlisted in the Air Force and served during the Korean War both there and in Washington, D.C. Upon his discharge, dreaming of a life in television, he moved to Los Angeles, where he found work as an associate producer on the court drama “Perry Mason.”
But family, and the family business, called him back. He returned to the East Coast to join the Wechsler Coffee Corporation, a concern of considerable size that distributed coffee to restaurants and hotels nationwide. It was started by his grandfather.
Eventually Mr. Wechsler, who had become chairman of the business, sold it to another family member and started another company, the Daily Grill, a national chain of restaurants. He was its chairman as well, and the chairman of Restaurant Associates, the national hospitality company. For the past decade he was a board member of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and of the American Friends of Hebrew University.
The political life in all its manifestations was important to Mr. Wechsler, both during his career and after. As a young man in the ’60s and a Democratic district leader on Manhattan’s West Side, he was a friend of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. He traveled through the South with the civil rights marchers in 1965 to register black voters, an experience he never forgot. At 80, he received a master’s degree from CUNY, where his thesis focused on the civil rights movement. He had hoped to teach a course on political movements but it was not to be.
Here on the South Fork, Mr. Wechsler was a regular at the East Hampton Tennis Club, a former Guild Hall board member, and a member of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons.
His marriages to Rozi Marash, Elizabeth Fisher, and Evelene Wechsler all ended in divorce.
In addition to Ms. Wechsler, who lives in Manhattan, and Ms. Fisher, of New Mexico, he leaves four children, Jessica Waters of New York, Maura Brickman of North Haven and Greenwich, Conn., Eric Wechsler of New York and Rancho Mirage, Calif., and Gale Wechsler of Delray Beach, Fla. Five grandchildren survive as well, as do two sisters, Grace Forrest of Palm Beach, Fla., and Elaine Slater of Toronto.
A memorial service will be held next Thursday at 6 p.m. in the recital hall of the CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street. William P. Kelly, president of the graduate center and CUNY’s interim chancellor, will officiate.