Featured Story

Shelter Island Reporter obituary: Jack A. Josephson

Jack Josephson, a decades-long resident of Shelter Island, passed away at his home on October 22 at age 92.

Introduced by friends to the Island in 1959, it was love at first sight, and he and his young family spent summers and weekends at their beloved getaway. Initially renting a cottage, he soon became a homeowner, and immersed himself in the life and activities of the Island community.

Over the years he became a familiar figure to residents and weekenders alike, but few might have guessed at the full scope of his personal and professional attainments. Jack rolled four careers into his long lifetime: civil engineer, entrepreneur, art collector and Egyptologist. 

Jack and his late elder brother Marvin were born to struggling immigrant parents in Atlantic City, N.J., during the Great Depression, and both rose to achieve success. After graduating from Atlantic City High School, Jack enrolled in the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering and received a BSE CE in 1951. His first job as a civil engineer took him to Morocco, where the U.S. was building overseas tactical bases. R&R flights to Cairo on the company two-seater afforded him his never-forgotten first view of the pyramids of Giza, which was to have a profound influence on his final, enduring career iteration.

Back in New York, he became a construction foreman, and has several Manhattan buildings to his credit, among them the Marion Davies building at 57th Street and Park Avenue. He married Elizabeth Asher in 1953. With a growing family to provide for, Jack made a risky career switch and, becoming a pioneering entrepreneur, founded J. Josephson Inc., to manufacture an innovative wall covering. He later founded Sellers and Josephson, rivaling his own first venture. One trade journal referred to him as “the legendary Jack Josephson.”

To satisfy an innate taste for art, he began collecting the artifacts of bygone civilizations, including Greek, Islamic and finally Egyptian. Then he transitioned to the study of Egyptology and an exclusive dedication to his true vocation, scholarship. Over time, he became a noted authority in the field.

Jack was awarded many distinctions in recognition of his achievements and service: Chairman of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, United States Information Agency (USIA) under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; Trustee of the Brooklyn Museum; Life Member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; member, Visiting Committee, Department of the Art of the Ancient World, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Chairman, International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR); member of the Board of Governors of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), and of its financial committee; Research Associate, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (IFA); Corresponding Member of the German Archaeological Institute, Berlin; and founder of the American Friends of the German Archaeological Institute.

Jack was a discreet and generous contributor to a diversity of causes, ranging from archaeological fieldwork, to academic research, to institutions and charitable organizations and individuals at home and abroad. He was equally generous in sharing his considerable knowledge and expertise with fellow Egyptologists and aspiring scholars.

He traveled to Egypt yearly, connecting with colleagues and visiting sites and digs, and three times, with his Egyptian wife Magda, led tour groups of friends from Shelter Island and New York there on what many still recall as the most unforgettable trip of their lives.

Jack’s lifelong devotion to physical fitness dictated regular gym workouts. A passionate tennis player, weekly singles or doubles were sacrosanct, as were, for years, competitive bi-monthly poker games. Renowned music critic Harold Schoenberg, Island friend and poker buddy, nurtured in Jack an informed appreciation of classical music, and honed his chess game. He was an avid reader, and breezed through the daily New York Times crossword puzzles, including Sunday’s.

He is predeceased by his first wife Elizabeth Ann Asher, and his elder son Mark. He leaves behind his wife Magda Saleh, son Paul, daughter Eve and granddaughter Alexandra.

In accordance with Jack’s directives, there will be no funeral service or memorial. In his memory, contributions to cancer research are welcomed and appreciated.