Gerald Schuster, 89; was a developer, political fund-raiser, philanthropist
As founder of Continental Wingate, Gerald Schuster built a company that grew to include real estate and property management, health care, and financial services as it stretched from its Boston roots far across the country.
To those who knew him well, though, he was always part of Elaine and Jerry, an inseparable couple whose unstoppable fund-raising was essential to the success of generations of Democratic candidates, locally and nationally.
“It’s impossible to talk about Jerry without talking about Jerry and Elaine, because they were a team,” said Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who is the US House minority leader and a former House speaker.
“The two of them together are a force,” said US Representative Joseph Kennedy III, a Massachusetts Democrat.
Pelosi and Kennedy were among the hundreds of mourners who gathered Sunday in Temple Israel of Boston to celebrate the life of Mr. Schuster, who was 89 when he died of cancer Wednesday in his Boston home.
Also at the service were current and former Massachusetts politicians including John Kerry, US Senator Edward Markey, Secretary of State William Galvin, Attorney General Maura Healey, Treasurer Deb Goldberg, and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Former president Bill Clinton, who attended with his wife, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, said in a eulogy that Mr. Schuster “stayed forever young” until the end “because his life was dominated by constructive responsibilities, the enjoyment of making a difference in other people’s lives, love, and a pretty good sense of humor.”
Clinton spoke about a golfing outing, while he was president, when he had to pause to take a call from the British prime minister. Mr. Schuster, his golfing partner, immediately announced he was making “an equally important call,” Clinton recalled. When Clinton asked with whom he was speaking, Mr. Schuster answered simply: “Elaine.” Those in the synagogue roared with laughter.
With his wife, Mr. Schuster created an ongoing legacy through their support of the organ transplant field, particularly at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is home to the Schuster Family Transplantation Research Center.
Their children inspired that initiative. While in college years ago, their son Mark donated a kidney to his younger brother Scott, whose kidneys were failing because of a hereditary ailment. Jerry and Elaine Schuster turned attentiveness to their children into compassion for countless others they would never meet.
“First and foremost, Jerry cared about the well-being of our patients,” said Dr. Betsy Nabel, president of Brigham and Women’s, who added that “he bettered our healing culture.”
Families and patients pass through the Elaine and Gerald Schuster Lobby at the hospital, where Mr. Schuster “was a bold visionary and generous leader,” Nabel said. “Jerry was very dear friend. My heart’s filled with sadness, and yet I have great gratitude and joy for having known such a special man.”
“Jerry was a delight,” said Steve Weiner, a friend and philanthropist who is a founder of Weiner Ventures real estate development and investment company. “In my opinion, he had a huge heart, and I think it shows in the way Elaine and Jerry would make commitments and just do good.”
Jack Connors, a founder of the advertising agency now known as Hill Holliday, said Mr. Schuster “was a very, very successful businessman, but he also loved life. He was a character, he had a great, dry sense of humor, and he always got the biggest kick out of the woman he loved — Elaine.”
In “Elaine & Jerry,” a video commemorating their 65th wedding anniversary last year, the couple bantered as easily as if they were reenacting a Nichols and May comedy routine. “I think he’s really cute,” she said at one point as they sat side by side. Pausing a beat for effect, Mr. Schuster threw his head back and called out, “second the motion.”
“I always did, and I still do,” Elaine added. “And he’s funny.”
The younger of two brothers, Gerald Schuster was born in Dorchester and grew up in Brookline. His mother, the former Rose Weinbaum, was a homemaker, and his father, Maurice Schuster, was a diamond importer.
“It was a very modest upbringing. He loved his days in Brookline,” said his son Scott, who lives in Boston. “They lived in an apartment on Babcock Street. He was very proud of that and very proud of his parents. I think that he never forgot those roots.”
Mr. Schuster went to Brookline High School and graduated from Clark University with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He worked for a time for his father-in-law, and for his father, before founding Continental Wingate in 1965, and initially entering the housing rehabilitation field. His sons eventually joined him in the business.
“He was a true teacher and a mentor. Throughout the years, I heard him say to me, ‘If I have a second profession, I want to be a teacher,’ ” said Mark, who also lives in Boston. “He made people in the company feel like they were family, because to him everybody was important. He had a simple way of taking a hierarchy and breaking it down to a more horizontal plane where everybody had a voice.”
In 1952, Mr. Schuster married Elaine Seigel, whom he met over a pickle barrel at a Nantasket Beach shop. After they dated, “I said, ‘Listen, let’s get married. I mean, we’ve both got nowhere else to go. Let’s go together,’ ” he recalled in their anniversary video.
“He’s my rock,” Elaine said in the video. “I don’t think that I could have gotten through some of the things we’ve gotten through without him.” She added: “If my children and grandchildren have as good a marriage for 65 years as we’ve had, I will be very happy.”
Mr. Schuster “built his world with her and around her,” Scott said. Among the couple’s many philanthropic endeavors was founding the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.
Elaine provided the impetus for their political fund-raising, prompted in part by her concern for the future of women — eight of their nine grandchildren are women.
At the family residences — they also had homes in Osterville and in Palm Beach, Fla. — the Schusters held dinners that could raise more than $1 million in an evening. Sometimes James Taylor would provide the entertainment.
“He was an intellectual resource,” Pelosi said, in an interview, of Mr. Schuster. “He knew what he was talking about in terms of public policy and how it affected the community and economy. He was a politically astute person.”
Mr. Schuster, Kennedy said in an interview, “was an integral part of the fabric of the Greater Boston community. And he was a good guy. Through everything, he was just a good-hearted soul.”
“There’s a term ‘understated elegance,’ ” Connors said. “Jerry was all about understatement. And in his own wonderful way, he was a very elegant man.”
In addition to his wife, Elaine, his sons Mark and Scott, and his grandchildren, Mr. Schuster leaves a daughter, Jodi Labourene of Palo Alto, Calif., and another son, Todd of Miami.
“He just loved life. He was in love with life,” Mark said of his father. “He loved living. Every single day was something to be appreciated, something to be savored, something to be excited about.”
In the video last year for his 65th wedding anniversary, Mr. Schuster mused that “you talk about a life, and you don’t know where to start and where to finish.”
“I mean, the things you do, the places you go, the people you meet, the ideas you have, the things you learn — it’s fascinating,” he added. “I wouldn’t give up any part of it, even the tough times, because the tough times teach you good lessons. The good times you enjoy, but you learn from your problems and you learn from the challenges. And you grow from those things.”
Befitting his dry sense of humor, he added with the faintest hint of a smile: “And then you become Shakespearean, like me.”