JEANNETTE S. ROHATYN

Obituary
1 entry
  • "We are so sorry to hear of your mother's passing; our..."
The Guest Book is expired.

ROHATYN--Jeannette S. Died Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012, after a long illness. She is mourned and missed by her sons, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and by all those whose lives she touched. She was born Jeanne Emma Streit in Paris, France, on December 26, 1924. Her father, Clarence K. Streit of Missoula, Mont., was a poet, New York Times correspondent and anti-fascist polemicist, whose book "Union Now", published on the eve of World War II, advanced the idea of federating the world's democracies, anticipating NATO and the European Union by decades. It was an idea to which he devoted the rest of his life. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Her mother and namesake, Jeanne Defrance, of Lille, France, and later Paris, was herself the niece of a significant figure in French jurisprudence, Fernand Payen, who, as former Chief Barrister of the Paris Bar Association, was assigned the unenviable task of defending Marechal Petain in his trial for treason in the months following the Liberation. Her beloved grandmother Marguerite was an editor at La Vie Heureuse. Jeannette's parents met at a bus stop at the Place de L'Opera in 1920 and remained inseparable for the rest of their lives. Her mother lived to be 101. Jeannette's early years would be defined by her father's intellectual and political journey. The family moved from Paris to Vienna and then Geneva, where Jeannette attended the Ecole Internationale; and then to Missoula, Montana, and Washington, DC, where she attended high school. It was as a teenager in Montana that Jeannette must first have become aware of her difference, and of the uncommon breadth of her worldview. It was a difference and apartness that she celebrated for the rest of her life. She attended Swarthmore College, majoring in art history, and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1946. An active alumnus who served on the Board of Trustees from 1977 to 1980, she went on to established the Clarence K. Streit Scholarship and the Baudelaire Award in French Studies. After college, she went to work at the United Nations in the then novel field of simultaneous interpreting, covering the French/Spanish/English section from 1947 until her retirement in 1963. As a member of the first generation of United Nations staff, she joined a remarkable and in many ways glamorous group, international in character and far-flung as a matter of fact, in a job that provided a front-row seat to events shaping the post-War and Cold War years. In 1956 she married Felix Rohatyn, then a salaried investment banker at Lazard Freres. Soon thereafter, the couple bought a large, sunny apartment on Park Avenue for the price of a luxury German sedan today; he became Partner in the firm, and she left the UN to raise their children. In 1958 they greeted the first of three boys, Pierre, with Nicolas and Michael following soon after. Though the marriage ended in divorce, recent years saw a renewal of friendship, with holidays spent together in the company of their children and grandchildren, and concern for each other discreetly communicated and well understood. After retirement, Jeannette's energies found further outlet in the service of her lifelong passion - opera. An indefatigable volunteer with the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, she oversaw the Eastern Region for many years, assisting such voices through the program's ranks as Susan Graham, Renee Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, Hei-Kyung Hong and Samuel Ramey. A Jeannette Rohatyn Prize - she called it the "Great Promise Award" - was established by her sons in 2005 to honor one of her pet concerns: the runner-up. It aptly reflects her nature, of keeping faith with all of her beloved singers, especially those who might need encouragement the most. Jeannette's other passions were wordplay, languages, trees, unstructured time for children, perfectly ripe cherries and, as anyone who knew her can attest, The Right Way of Doing Things. She was exacting, loyal, charming, an astute critic and an overly stern self-critic, and a person for whom being cultivated was neither aspirational nor a privilege, but an innate, human virtue. She is survived by her sons Pierre, of St. Alexandre, France, and Nicolas and Michael of New York City; her nieces Valerie Schroth of Westport, CT, and Lisa Devon Kirkley of Alexandria, VA; and nephews Eric Perret of Milford, CT and Andrew Perret of Brooklyn, NY; and her beloved grandchildren Alexander, Coco, Clara, Nicholas and Ida. "La mer, la mer, toujours recommencee..." -Paul Valery

Published in The New York Times on Apr. 29, 2012