Palm Beach Civic Association 81st season logo

Protecting the quality of life since 1944.

Our Town by William Kelly: Palm Beach Civic Association welcomes ‘outstanding’ slate of new directors

Michael Reiter appointed to Executive Committee

A celebrated radio host and musician, a Sotheby’s realtor, a community leader, and experts from the worlds of finance and medicine recently joined the ranks of the Palm Beach Civic Association directors.

The Civic Association welcomed this skilled and accomplished slate of seven new directors at its 2024 Annual Meeting on April 8 at the Flagler Museum.

The seven additions bring the total count of Civic Association directors to 136.

The new directors are Christopher Cowie, Oliver Grace, Michael Edwin Kafrissen, Audrey McNiff, Bob Merrill, Richard Rothschild and Susan Van Pelt. Their nominations were approved by a proxy vote of the Civic Association’s membership and their appointments were announced at the annual meeting.

“We are pleased to have such an outstanding group of new Civic Association directors this year,” said Michael Pucillo, chairman and CEO of the Civic association. “I look forward to working with each of our new directors in advancing the mission of the Civic Association to preserve and improve the quality of life in the Town of Palm Beach.”

Immediately following the Annual Meeting for members and the public, the Civic Association’s directors approved the nomination of Michael Reiter for a seat on the organization’s 17-member, policy-setting Executive Committee.

Reiter is a former Palm Beach police officer and was the town’s police chief from 2001 until his retirement in 2009. He has more than 40 years of combined law enforcement and security experience.

He is president of Michael Reiter & Associates, a Palm Beach-based security and investigative firm that provides global protection and advice for individuals and organizations.

Pucillo noted that Reiter has been a Civic Association Director since 2013 and serves on the organization’s Raymond J. Kunkel, Water, and Public Safety committees.

“He has been an important voice on public safety issues,” Pucillo said. “His long history with the Town of Palm Beach will serve him well as a member of the Executive Committee. We are delighted to have him join the Executive Committee.”

Christopher Cowie

Christopher Cowie
Cowie was a founding partner and board member of London-based international equity firm Silchester International Investors. Silchester became one of the preeminent international equity investment managers for U.S. endowments, foundations, private and public pension funds and high net-worth individuals.

Cowie worked for several investment-related companies, including Bankers Trust and Institutional Investor. He was a co-founder of Baseline Financial Services, an early entrant in computer-generated research for investment managers.
After retiring in 2017, he became a full-time resident of Palm Beach.

Cowie said he was happy to oblige when Civic Association President Mary Robosson asked if he were interested in becoming a director.

“I think it’s a very well-run organization, with a wide membership,” he said.

Cowie said he enjoys being in Palm Beach and socializes more now than he did during his many years of life in New York City.

“I didn’t quite understand how much I would love it here,” he said. “It’s very easy and kind of hassle-free. Organizations like the Civic Association, the [Society of the] Four Arts and the Norton Museum are fantastic. There are just a lot of things to do.”

Oliver Grace

Oliver Grace
Grace is chief executive officer of the Grace Family Office, an investment firm with a diverse portfolio spanning private equity, venture capital, real estate, and publicly traded securities.

Grace is the former CEO of Moscow Cablecom, where he led the development of a groundbreaking cable TV and internet network for the City of Moscow, Russia. The company was sold to Renova in 2007.

He is a licensed real estate broker in New York and began his career with Douglas Elliman-Knight Frank.

Grace is a director of the Cancer Research Institute.

Grace said the Civic Association brings residents together through a variety of shared interests. Its members and directors are its core strength and what enables it to benefit the town.

“It’s a great advisory organization to the town and has a group of very talented people who can provide advice based upon a wide range of education and experiences,” he said.

Michael Kafrissen

Michael Edwin Kafrissen
Kafrissen is a physician who has served on the Civic Association’s Health Care Committee since 2019.

His current roles include leadership of the private consulting firm STE Health International; research physician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Public Health.

Kafrissen was previously an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Rutgers University’s School of Pharmacy.

He also was a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control.

Before moving to Palm Beach, Kafrissen worked with several Johnson & Johnson companies in pharmaceutical development and was a member of the North American Pharmaceutical Board.

Kafrissen joined the Civic Association shortly after moving to Palm Beach about eight years ago. He began serving on the Health Care Committee six years ago.

“Whether through committee work, or by participating in Civic Association events, the social connectivity opportunities are really enhanced by the Civic Association,” he said. “The people I have met have been interesting, intelligent and accomplished.”

Educating people about the importance of social connectivity is going to be one of the Health Care Committee’s initiatives next season, Kafrissen said.

Health care, public safety and environmental concerns are just a few examples of how the Civic Association educates members and residents about topics that touch their everyday lives, he said.

“It really is a much more important organization than most people know,” Kafrissen said. “One opportunity that directors have is to help members and prospective members gain a better appreciation of what it is we can and should be doing on behalf of Palm Beach and ourselves as well.”

Audrey McNiff

Audrey McNiff

McNiff retired in 2009 as a partner with Goldman Sachs, in the Securities Division, after 17 years with the firm. McNiff managed a global team of salespeople with coverage based in New York, London and Tokyo.

Before Goldman Sachs, she worked for HSBC, Irving Trust, and Nat West.

McNiff’s board affiliations include the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital since 2014 and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach since 2022.

McNiff said she has enjoyed serving on the Civic Association’s Health Care Committee during the past year.

“I’ve just been so impressed with the other members of the Civic Association and their mission to protect and improve every aspect of Palm Beach,” McNiff said.

Being a Civic Association member has also opened social doors for McNiff since she and her husband became residents in 2020.

“As someone relatively new to Palm Beach, the Civic Association has allowed us to meet a really wide group of people and make some great friends,” she said.

Bob Merrill

Bob Merrill
Merrill is the on-air host at Legends Radio WLML 100.3 FM in Palm Beach County, where he curates the Great American Songbook and hosts the popular weekly talk show “Sunday Legends Brunch.”

He is a vocalist, jazz trumpeter, pianist, arranger and bandleader. His music has been heard around the world – at clubs and concerts, in films, on television and on recordings as a leader and sideman.

Merrill moved to Palm Beach in 2019 and became a Civic Association member in 2021. But his roots in the town run much deeper than that. He is the son of Palm Beach resident Hildegarde “Hillie” Mahoney, a Civic Association director since 2000, and he has been visiting the town for 60 years.

Merrill said he looks forward to the Civic Association’s weekly Palm Beach TV newscasts about life on the island. He also enjoys the organization’s community forums and educational programs. He was particularly impressed with a February 6, 2023, Signature Series presentation on personal and cybersecurity, featuring security expert Michael Reiter as keynote speaker.

“It’s things like that that are so helpful,” he said.

Merrill said he looks forward to his service as a Civic Association director. “I’m glad to be on board and happy to help,” he said.

Richard Rothschild

Richard Rothschild
Rothschild grew up in Briarcliff Manor, New York. He graduated from Bucknell University in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

Rothschild’s grandparents lived in Palm Beach and he has visited the town since he was a child. He has been a full-time resident since 2014.

Rothschild is involved in several organizations in Palm Beach. He is a board member and campaign chair of the Town of Palm Beach United Way. He is also on the boards of Morse Life, Hebrew University, and Israel Tennis Centers.

He is a longtime member and board member of the Palm Beach Country Club, where he chaired the house and tennis committees.

Rothschild said the Civic Association keeps residents informed about issues affecting the town. It also works with the town to solve problems.

Mayor Danielle Moore’s state of the town presentation at the Civic Association’s Annual Meeting on April 8, which is posted on the Civic Association’s website, is a great example of both its partnership with the town and its communications outreach, Rothschild said.

“I have been supporting the Civic Association for years,” he said. Being a leader with the Civic Association and the United Way is about “doing everything we can do to improve the community and lives of people who are not necessarily as fortunate as we are.”

Susan Van Pelt

Susan Van Pelt

Van Pelt is a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty in Palm Beach, concentrating on residential properties in Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.

She previously had a career in banking beginning with the Chemical Bank in commercial banking in New York.

Van Pelt moved to Palm Beach, joining Chase Manhattan Bank in the private bank. She retired from JP Morgan Chase.

She has been a Civic Association member for more than 10 years and is a member of the organization’s Environmental Committee.

Van Pelt said she looks forward to her service as a Civic Association director.

“It has a lot of very interesting speakers and programs,” she said. “I have watched Palm Beach TV since the beginning. It’s a highly respected organization that has certainly served the Palm Beach community for 80 years now.”

Mary Robosson, Civic Association president and chief operating officer, said each of the new directors brings an expertise that will add depth to an already impressive roster.

The collective intelligence of the organization has grown immeasurably since it was established in 1944 by a small group of civic-minded individuals resolved to protect and enhance the special qualities of the island, she said.

“We welcome and congratulate the seven new directors and look forward to their meaningful engagement as we embark upon our 81st year of service to the town,” she said.

Michael Reiter headshot photo_Nov2023

Reiter welcomes leadership role
Reiter is a 2009 recipient of the Civic Association’s Raymond J. Kunkel Award, the Town of Palm Beach’s 1987 Employee of the Year honor, and the Worth Avenue Association Above and Beyond Award.

Reiter said he had the opportunity to participate in many Civic Association initiatives, programs and events while he was a town employee, including his eight years as police chief.

“The Civic Association and Town of Palm Beach elected and appointed officials work very well together in a rare relationship of mutual respect that results in a better and stronger Town of Palm Beach,” Reiter said.

The Civic Association is a group of accomplished, skilled and community-minded individuals willing to give their time and talent to protect and improve Palm Beach, Reiter said.

“We are single-minded in our love for the town and I am happy to be involved in the leadership group responsible for moving our organization’s commitment to action,” he said.

Our Town sponsored by:

Cleveland Clinic Florida