Living in a world that often appears filled with bitterness and skepticism, it’s difficult to believe that a woman who has been given so much would be giving just as much. But that’s the paradigm that is Jean Shafiroff. Not so hidden beneath the elegant gowns and vintage Hubert de Givenchy dresses is a giving heart, whose beat echoes a Magi’s tale, perhaps even a fairy tale.
Her passion for fashion is clear. Frequently named on the best-dressed list, she loves mixing haute couture, vintage and affordable pieces. She is very much a fan of Oscar de la Renta but also loves Carolina Herrera, Zang Toi and B. Michael. Other talents whose design she admires include Victor de Souza and Alexander Wang. “Of course, I love Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Prada, Chanel. It’s fun to mix them with items from H&M, Zara and vintage shops.” But despite her fervor for glamorous couture, her true love is philanthropy.
Tonight she is hosting a toy drive for kids on behalf of New York City Mission Society. Watching Jean Shafiroff glide gracefully across her opulent Park Avenue residence is like watching a Disney princess waltz around an animated palatial ballroom. The similarities are striking: her figure is statuesque, perfectly fitting a tantalizing emerald gown. She has an enviable pulchritudinous porcelain complexion that complements a sublime face with a Holly Golightly-esque expression, which is genuinely warm, welcoming and unassuming.
Hands clasped around three sullied champagne flutes, she apologizes quietly while navigating around guests congregating in clusters. “Let me show you around. But first, I’ll just put these away,“ The attentive hostess adds that her guests shouldn’t be in rooms that are in “such disarray.” Of course, the state of the abode was far from it. But for Jean Shafiroff, for whom respect for others is paramount, little things like not tidying up perfectly at a party would be tantamount to disrespecting her guests.
Whereas most people might have simply called aside one of the servers or an assistant to do the work, Jean instinctually pitches in. Her idea of leadership rises from the bottom up. She is quite comfortably a firm believer in the team concept and dwells in working with, and at the same level as, everyone else.
This philanthropist insists on playing a doer not a commander. She communicates the relevance of her thoughts by her deeds. As much as the victories, she shares the disappointments, rejections and frustrations alongside any other volunteer, in any and all of the numerous charitable projects and organizations in which she is involved.
Her humility is instantly disarming. For many, it’s a refreshing and much needed departure from other self-proclaimed philanthropists, some of whom delight in opportunities to control, or in the adulation they receive, or in both. Philanthropy for some is just another way of marketing themselves.
Unlike them, Jean lives the definition of philanthropy, i.e., the love of other human beings. (The opposite of narcissism, which is the love of oneself alone!) She believes this love of humanity was inculcated early on in her youth by her parents, and through her catholic education and upbringing.
Born Jean Lutri and raised in Long Island, New York, her father, Placido Lutri, was a Juilliard graduate, a former music chairman and director of district bands for Levittown schools. Her mother, Rose, was a painter and textile designer. Jean recalls the tremendous love her father had for children he educated. Both her parents exhibited care for others in need. Such acts of compassion served as shining examples for Jean and her brothers.
After graduating from Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville, Jean went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy degree from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. She had been a physical therapist at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City before moving on and receiving her MBA from Columbia Business School. Thereafter she worked both in public finance and later in private partnerships on Wall Street, including in the corporate finance department of investment bank L.F. Rothschild, Unterberg, Towbin.
In 1982, she married Martin Shafiroff, an investment advisor, then managing director at Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb Inc. Their fairy tale wedding took place at the Grand Ballroom of the legendary Pierre Hotel.
For many years, she devoted her time fully as a wife and as a doting mother to their two daughters, Jacqueline and Elizabeth. But her natural inclination to pitch in and to give never wavered.
“When my daughters were in school, I was a class mother for a number of years. We supervised class trips and were involved in helping organize certain (class) activities,” says Jean. One especially memorable project was an 8th grade annual fund. It was an initiative to get parents to contribute to the school. The success arising from their hard work was evidenced by a surprising increase to one hundred percent parent participation. Previously, the school had had to rely only on a handful of potentially “large gifts.”
The Glamorous Magi
by Loy Bernal Carlos