Martin E. Segal

Who Mentored Martin E. Segal?

Photo by Don Pollard
Photo by Don Pollard

For nearly half a century, Martin E. Segal was a leader and major advocate for the arts and education in New York City.  He was Chairman of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts from 1981 to 1986 (Chairman Emeritus since 1986), and was the Founding President and CEO of The Film Society of Lincoln Center from 1968-1978 (President Emeritus since 1978). He served on many other Boards and committees of major civic, cultural, health, and educational organizations, including The Graduate Center Foundation of The City University of New York, where he was Vice Chairman from 2003-2008.  He received numerous awards and honors as well as seven honorary degrees.

In 1939, Martin Segal founded The Segal Company (international consultants and actuaries for employee benefit plans), serving as President until 1967, and as Chairman from 1967 to 1991. He was a partner in Wertheim & Co. investment firm from 1967 to 1982, and President (1972-1975) and Chairman (1975-1982) of Wertheim Asset Management Services.

I had two wonderful teachers. My English teacher, Dr. McNeil, knew that I was a reader and he had seen me in class several times — apparently I wasn’t too difficult in class — and he started giving me books to read, and got me enrolled in a public library not far from my apartment where we lived.

And I had an art teacher. I wanted to be a painter when I was a boy.  Fortunately, for the world and my family, I didn’t become one, but I was very interested in that. But my teacher, Virginia Murphy, who was the art teacher in Erasmus Hall High School, knew that I wasn’t talented, and instead of telling me that, she got me interested in things related to the arts. She got me interested in stage design and masks, puppets and so forth, about which I was pretty good. And later, after I left school, she became the head of arts education in the public schools of the city, and she became a friend. And she kept in touch with me, and I with her, right through the time I was married at age twenty.

The most important lesson I learned from her–I think it’s a reality-based judgment about not what you hope for or what you wish for, but what’s possible, and to deal realistically with a possibility. She knew I wasn’t talented and made me aware of that reality, and therefore opened the door to other possibilities.

My English teacher, well, he introduced me to lives that I never knew anything about.  I read Marcel Proust, all of it, from age thirteen to age fourteen. And people would say to me years later: ‘Why would you read Marcel Proust?’  I said because I would read it until one o’clock in the morning after working at night and whatever, and I learned about a world that I never knew before, you know.  Women in deep décolletage was something interesting to me, but I never actually knew about it, you know.  And he introduced me to the wonders of reading, which I still enjoy greatly to this day.

So they were very influential and, in many ways, were a bridge from a life that was happy and difficult to a life that became much more comfortable and manageable.