Walter Kissinger, a Long Island businessman and philanthropist who raised his family in Huntington Bay, died May 3 at his home in San Rafael, California. He was 96 years old.
The reason was chronic kidney failure, his family said.
Kissinger, the younger brother of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, built a reputation for being strong and courageous in both his personal and professional pursuits.
Walter Kissinger straddled his imposing Arabian horse and growling motorcycle, and led a multinational organization and research efforts. They were all in his comfort zone.
A German Jewish refugee who came to the United States with his family in 1938, Walter Kissinger went on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School. “I can’t believe anyone I worked with ever complained of being bored,” he said in a Newsday interview in the late 1980s.
After pioneering career moves to Jarvis Corporation and other companies, Kissinger became president of the Allen Group in 1969, a manufacturer and supplier of automobile goods and services based in Suffolk County from its inception until a few years after his departure.
When he was offered the Allen Group position, Kissinger “made his acceptance conditional on moving headquarters to Melville,” his son John Kissingford, 53, of Ouray, Colorado, told Newsday. “She and my mom bought the house in Huntington Bay, where we all grew up. She loved it there.”
During his nearly two-decade tenure, Kissinger saw the company through financial ups and downs and lawsuits, earning his own fortune along the way. By February 1982, Forbes had dubbed the Long Island businessman, “the young, prosperous Kissinger.” When he left the Allen group in 1988, Kissinger’s $11 million severed head and made headlines.
Walter Kissinger then turned to philanthropy. He led the creation in 1992 of the Long Island Research Institute (LIRI), a collaborative team effort by research centers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and North Shore University Hospital.
The group’s goal was to create a bridge between research in the laboratory and the commercial market. Kissinger wasn’t up tooting his horns about Liri, calling it “something quite unique.”
In an October 1995 Newsday interview, Kissinger didn’t shirk from lambasting the then rule. George Pataky’s administration when the institute’s state funding was cut by 50%. “As a Republican, I’m just in trouble,” said Kissinger, who had just left Liri as chairman.
Kissinger continued his philanthropic work through the Kissinger Family Foundation, which he founded in 1997 with his wife, Eugenie Van Drooge Kissinger, who died in 2014.
Kissinger, who had a ranch located in Mumbai before moving to California, also leaves a legacy of stories that did tell him tick.
One of the richest and most revealing is why his brother still had a foreign accent and he didn’t. Walter Kissinger repeatedly replied: “Because I used to listen to Kissinger,” said a teacher in Kissingford, Colorado whose surname is a hybrid of his and that of his wife.
The Kissingford confirmed to Newsday that his father was an excellent listener. “When I was a teenager, friends used to joke that they would be interviewed when they came over for dinner,” he said. “Until the end of his life, he was deeply present.”
In addition to her brother Henry and son John, Kissinger is survived by a daughter, Dana Kissinger-Matray of Villars-sous-Yens, Switzerland, and two other sons, Thomas Kissinger of Boulder, Colorado, and William of Mill Valley, California Kissinger; and eight grandchildren.
The family held a private memorial in California on May 22 and “will gather as a family for a remembrance in New York City in mid-August,” Kissingford said.
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