Richard’s almanac: Sy Weissman: Photographer and advocate

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO Sy Weissman in action, taking a photo of Marion Klupka. His photos line the walls of the Senior Activity Center.
Sy Weissman in action, taking a photo of Marion Klupka. His photos line the walls of the Senior Activity Center.

While visiting the Senior Activity Center last week, I noticed some impressive photos on the walls and was told they were taken by Sy Weissman. Yoga teacher Jean Lawless said, “He’s a great guy. You should write about him.”

I called Sy and he invited me over to talk. He lives in a sturdy 19th-century farmhouse that he and his late wife, Liz Durbin, renovated after his retirement in 1994. He was a longtime producer at CBS News.

Sy was quick to point out that photography has been a hobby since he was a kid in Brooklyn.

The 84-year-old went to high school with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He went to Kenyon College in Ohio, where Paul Newman was a classmate. While there, he worked on the well-known literary journal, the Kenyon Review.

After college, he joined the U.S. Army where, he said, “I was trained in film, making movies of missile launches and other tests. Then it was off to the University of Southern California School of Cinema.”

Sy produced numerous commercials and political ads for notables, including New York City Mayor Robert Wagner and Shelter Island Supervisor Alfred Kilb. “ I was Alfred’s campaign manager,” he noted.

He is one of the founders and current president of the Senior Citizen Foundation of Shelter Island, which he describes  as “a fundraising organization to help needy Island seniors who are having trouble paying bills.”

The Foundation also supports the Senior Activity Center by paying for expenses not covered by the town.

“We acquired  a big-screen TV, rebuilt the kitchen and paid for seasonal social activities,” Sy explained.

The center also has all kinds of equipment for infirm seniors to use.

The other board members of the Foundation are Ida Marie Bottone, Reeves Thompson, Bill Seeberg, Diane Anderson, Judy Daniels and the late Mimi  Brennan. Since 1999, they have served on this ad hoc committee that meets seniors’ needs.

Sy spoke fondly of his late wife, Liz, a British economist who taught at New York University and was an early activist for equal pay for women. After he retired, he followed her to teaching posts in the Ukraine and Rome. While in the Ukraine, he helped start an all-news TV network.

He is also justifiably proud of his four children and 10 grandchildren, as he pointed to their photographs displayed throughout his home. He told me that one son is a director for children’s TV, another is a college professor and the third is a building contractor. His daughter is a concert pianist. A grandchild is a piano prodigy.