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In Memoriam: Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr., longtime Palm Beach Civic Association Director, cultural icon, and visionary leader

Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr., a Palm Beach County cultural visionary and philanthropist who led the fundraising to build the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, and who had a local arts high school named in his honor, died Sunday at age 91.

Alex Dreyfoos and Michael Pucillo in 2018

Alex Dreyfoos and Michael Pucillo in 2018

Mr. Dreyfoos, a former Palm Beach resident who more recently lived in West Palm Beach, died peacefully in his sleep at Lourdes Noreen McKeen Residence in West Palm Beach.

He was a major force behind area cultural efforts, helping in 1978 to establish the Palm Beach County Council of the Arts, which later became the Palm Beach County Cultural Council. Mr. Dreyfoos served as the organization’s first chairman.

“There is no question he was very interested in many things,” said Judy Goodman, who was the cultural council’s first executive director and is now a member of the Palm Beach Civic Association’s Executive Committee. “He had extraordinary cognitive reserve. He was extremely persistent, a positive thinker and he could see things that other people didn’t see. Those abilities made him very special to work for.”

Beginning in 1978, Mr. Dreyfoos spearheaded efforts to build a world-class performing arts center, then served as chairman of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts for 15 years following its opening in 1992. The center includes the 2,195-seat Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. Concert Hall.

Civic Association President Mary Robosson said she had the honor of working at the Kravis for 13 years under Mr. Dreyfoos’s chairmanship.

“His favorite saying to me was, ‘Let’s hit a home run, or not go to bat at all,’” Robosson recalled.

Mr. Dreyfoos was a longtime supporter of the Civic Association who became a director in 1984. He generously donated to the Civic Association’s Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr. Legacy Society, named after his dear friend, the late Stanley Rumbough, a former CEO and co-chairman of the Civic Association. Mr. Dreyfoos was a Civic Association Director until 2015, and became an Honorary Director the following year.

The Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts is a public high school in West Palm Beach. Formerly named the Palm Beach County School of the Arts, it was renamed to recognize a 1997 donation of $1 million by Mr. Dreyfoos.

Chris Snyder, chief executive officer of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts Foundation, said Mr. Dreyfoos was one of the first people to support the idea of a local arts school and contributed what was then the largest gift to a public high school in Florida’s history.

“His dedication has guaranteed a most positive and timely impact on the lives of our students – present and future,” Snyder said.

Mr. Dreyfoos was an engineer, inventor and business executive who held 10 U.S. and many foreign patents in the fields of photography and electronics.

He owned WPEC-TV 12 in West Palm Beach from 1973 until 1996.

Mr. Dreyfoos was chairman of Dreyfoos Group, a private capital management firm that grew out of Photo Electronics Corp., the firm he formed in 1963 to manufacture electronic equipment for the photographic industry.

He was a lifetime trustee of MIT Corporation and a trustee of both Scripps Research Institute and Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. In 2004, he was made a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He was an active member of the Chief Executives Organization and of the non-profit World Presidents’ Organization. He received numerous awards, including the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Special Award.

Mr. Dreyfoos was born on March 22, 1932, at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital to Alexander Dreyfoos Sr. and Martha Dreyfoos.

He inherited his love of photography from his father, a professional photographer who had a studio in New York’s theater district. His love of music could be traced to his childhood, where his mother was a professional cellist who filled their home with music.

He was accepted in 1954 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his undergraduate degree. He later received an MBA from Harvard Business School.

George Michel is an Honorary Director of the Civic Association who was Mr. Dreyfoos’s roommate at MIT. The two became lifelong best friends, attending one another’s weddings, sailing together over three different oceans on their yachts, and flying all over the United States (Mr. Dreyfoos earned his pilot’s license in 1960 and later became a jet pilot).

“When you’ve been friends for 73 years, there are a lot of stories to tell,” said Michel, a retired Fortune 500 executive and former vice chairman of the Kravis Center. “There were so many things we did over the years.”

MIT was a great learning environment and training ground for success – and the perfect educational institution for Mr. Dreyfoos, Michel said.

“He was just a quick learner,” Michel said. “He was always interested in getting better and doing better things, whatever it was. He wasn’t afraid to ask questions. He had the ‘engineer’s curse.’ He always wanted to solve problems.”

Michael Pucillo, chairman and CEO of the Civic Association, said he knew Mr. Dreyfoos for more than 40 years.

“When we would discuss the Dreyfoos School of the Arts, where my daughter attended before embarking on a career in medicine, he would talk about the fine line between art and science,” Pucillo recalled. “He knew both of those worlds well. He saw how they were interconnected. Alex was a true visionary. Few people have left an imprint on the community they lived in the way Alex Dreyfoos did. We will miss him.”

 

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