UN Watch mourns the loss of Mrs. Lily Safra, a great friend and supporter of our organization. We extend our condolences to the entire family.
Mrs. Safra was a prominent philanthropist who shared her commitment to caring for the less fortunate with her husband, Mr. Edmond J. Safra, one of the twentieth century’s most accomplished bankers and founder of the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation.
Chair of the Foundation for over 20 years, Mrs. Safra supported projects related to education, science and medicine, religion, culture, and humanitarian relief in over 40 countries.
She supported numerous worthy projects in memory of her husband in the field of education, including the Edmond J. Safra Campus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and the the creation of Edmond J. Safra Scholarships at the International Sephardic Education Foundation (ISEF), which she established with her husband in 1977, and which has become the largest non-profit organization promoting higher education for gifted Israelis from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Edmond and I shared the belief that in the eyes of God we are all entitled equally to dignity, and that everyone has a right to a dignified life,” said Mrs. Safra. “We also believed that those to whom God had given more than they needed also had the duty and great privilege to share their blessings with those who didn’t have enough.”
Mrs. Safra was a member of the Board of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, where Mrs. Safra was instrumental in the construction of the Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge for patients and their families battling serious illness.
In 2006, Mrs. Safra established the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute for Neuroscience in Natal, Brazil, now that country’s most highly-regarded brain research center.
Under her leadership, the Edmond J. Safra Foundation endowed the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the largest and most ambitious neuroscience project in Israel.
Through her efforts, the construction and ongoing enhancement of the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Tel Hashomer, Israel, was made possible.
A passionate art collector, Mrs. Safra was a patron of museums around the world, notably the Courtauld Institute in London and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, home to the Edmond and Lily Safra Fine Arts Wing. She established the Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professorship at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
Mrs. Safra was bestowed with honorary doctorates from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, the University of Haifa, Brandeis University, and Imperial College London.
She was a Commandeur of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Officier de la Légion d’honneur.
Like her philanthropy, Mrs. Safra’s life was dynamic and global. She spoke six languages and made her home at different times in seven countries. She was known for her elegance, independence, generosity, and eye for detail.
Lily Safra was born Lily Watkins in 1934 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Her parents were Jewish immigrants to South America: Wolf Watkins, an engineer of Czech and British origins who had prospered in Brazil and Uruguay, and Annita Noudelman, whose family fled pogroms in Odessa for the safety of Brazil. Lily’s father manufactured railroad cars, with a factory in the city of Mesquita, near Rio de Janeiro, where the main street was named “Rua Mister Watkins” in his honor.
Edmond and Lily Safra were married in 1976 in Geneva. They formed a strong bond and an enduring love.
True partners and constant sources of support for each other, Mr. and Mrs. Safra established beautiful homes in Geneva, London, Paris, New York, Monaco, and the French Riviera — the latter, La Léopolda, being a former property of the king of Belgium. With their combined eye for quality, they curated a world-class art collection.
Mrs. Safra was a loving mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, and she always took great pleasure in welcoming guests generously. Her devotion to her friends inspired the same in return.
Mrs. Safra was her husband’s solace and caregiver when he began suffering the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. In the years since his passing in December 1999, she became the carrier and guardian of his legacy.
Mrs. Safra faithfully pursued her husband’s support of Jewish religious life around the world, building and sustaining dozens of synagogues and schools in his memory.
In particular, she devoted herself to the construction of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue of Manhattan and the Synagogue Edmond J. Safra of Monaco. She also took a leading role in the reconstruction and renovation of the magnificent Edmond J. Safra Synagogue of St. Petersburg, built in the late 19th century as the Grand Choral Synagogue.
May her memory be a blessing.
The following UN Watch notice was published in today’s Tribune de Genève: