Harry C. Wechsler, 97, of Weston, MA – chemist, business leader, and philanthropist – died June 29, 2017. His career spanned bench research in the nascent plastics industry to the presidencies of Borden Chemical and Beatrice Chemical, Inc.; ownership of the Farboil Company; and the founding of the Institute of Contemporary Affairs and NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. Wechsler was known for his incisive analytical skills, vast store of knowledge and international experience, patrician demeanor, and generosity with both counsel and resources.
Harry Wechsler was born and raised in Iasi, Romania, the oldest son of a wealthy, Jewish textile manufacturer. He attended college in Manchester, England, until forced to leave by the outbreak of World War II. Idealistic and ambitious, and chafing against the anti-semitism of his home country, he emigrated to Palestine in 1940, where he became part of a circle of young leaders active in building the new state of Israel. There he earned a master’s degree in polymer chemistry at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. He then traveled to the U.S. to get his doctorate in polymer chemistry at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now Polytechnic Institute of New York University). During this time, he led a group of chemists in a clandestine ordnance project designed to assist Israel’s defense by bypassing a mideast arms embargo.
Wechsler’s career then took him to Borden Inc, where he was instrumental in creating the stretchable, clear plastic wrap that has since become ubiquitous in supermarket food packaging. He established Borden as a force in the field of thermoplastics and packaging films, and quickly rose to become president of its chemical division.
In 1972, he moved to Beatrice Companies, Inc, where he developed the Beatrice Chemical Division, eventually acquiring and supervising 23 domestic and international profit centers. Under his management, the Chemical Division grew 15-fold, with activities in ten lines of business, including the manufacture of acrylic and polyurethane polymers, leather finishes, printing inks, compounded engineering plastics, and graphite composites for missiles and the aircraft/aerospace industry.
In 1985, when Beatrice sold its chemical division in a $760,000,000 transaction, Wechsler purchased Farboil, one of its companies. He continued to manage and build Farboil as President and co-owner for 14 years, producing high performance electrical encapsulating compounds, powdered coatings, and other specialty chemical compounds.
After selling Farboil in 1999, Wechsler made his longtime philanthropic work a full-time job. In 2001 he founded the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an international policy forum and think tank addressing Israel’s security challenges. The following year he co-founded NGO Monitor, a watchdog organization working to expose non-governmental organizations that unfairly criticize Israel and distort its human rights record. Both organizations have broad international reach.
Wechsler also raised the funds to endow the Herman F. Mark Chair in Polymer Science at NYU Polytechnic Institute, and was the founding donor of the endowed Wechsler Award for Faculty Excellence at Polytechnic University. He has served on numerous university, business, and civic boards, and was the founding donor of a fellowship in orthopedic tumor research at Massachusetts General Hospital. In all his endeavors, Wechsler was not a passive philanthropist but provided on-going direction and hands-on advice and support.
Throughout his life, Wechsler, who spoke seven languages, maintained a deep familiarity with international developments, keeping abreast of political and economic affairs around the world. He traveled extensively, both as an executive expanding Beatrice Chemical internationally, and as a global citizen. He became a proud and patriotic American, while retaining cultural ties to Europe and remaining passionately devoted to Israel.
As in business, Wechsler had a full family life and was remarkably forward-thinking. Decades before the women’s movement, he encouraged his wife to earn a PhD and become a practicing psychologist, and he later encouraged his three daughters to pursue graduate degrees and establish professional careers. He organized the family’s religious observances; patronized the arts; was the life of every party; and generously dispensed insights, humor, money and advice. He was successful in every dimension of his life.
His survivors include his beloved wife, Ruth Reiser Wechsler, who shared his life for 68 years; three daughters and sons-in-law: Mia Wechsler Doron (Scott) of Durham, NC; Dana Wechsler Linden (Larry) of New York, NY; and Sharon Wechsler Jacques (Michael) of Acton, MA; two nephews, Joav Leventer and Oded Leventer of Tel Aviv, Israel; and five grandchildren: Anna Craig, Nathan Jacques, Tess Linden, Lily Doron, and Maya Linden.
A private, graveside funeral will be followed by a memorial service at a future date.