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Lee Lorch, 98; desegregation activist

Lee Lorch spoke to reporters after he invited a black family to live in his family’s apartment in Stuyvesant Town.Neal Boenzi/New York Times/File 1949/NYT

NEW YORK — Lee Lorch — a soft-spoken mathematician whose leadership in the campaign to desegregate Stuyvesant Town, the gargantuan housing development on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, helped make housing discrimination illegal nationwide — died Friday at a hospital in Toronto. He was 98.

He died of natural causes, said his daughter Alice Lorch Bartels.

By helping to organize tenants in a newly built housing complex and then inviting a black family to live in his own vacant apartment, Mr. Lorch played a crucial role in forcing Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., which owned the development, to abandon its whites-only admissions policy. His campaign anticipated the sit-ins and other civil rights protests to come.


But Mr. Lorch’s lifelong agitation for racial equality, not just in New York but later in Tennessee and Arkansas, led him into a life of professional turmoil and, ultimately, exile.

In 1959, after many years of bitter opposition due to his activism, he moved his family to Canada, first to the University of Alberta, and then, in 1968, to York University, from which he retired in 1985.

Lee Lorch was born in Manhattan to Adolph Lorch and Florence Mayer Lorch. His wife, the former Grace Lonergan, died in 1974. Mr. Lorch leaves his daughter, Bartels; two granddaughters, Natasha and Jessica; and a sister, Judith Brooks.

Mr. Lorch was often honored by his fellow mathematicians. In 1990, he received an honorary degree from the City University of New York.

In a 2010 interview with Kelly, Mr. Lorch insisted that it was his wife and daughter, and not he, who had paid the greatest price for his principles. Asked if he would do anything any differently, he paused. “More and better of the same,” he replied.