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Richard D. Kahn

Thu, 11/30/2023 - 08:39

April 25, 1931 - Nov. 17, 2023

Richard Dreyfus Kahn of Montauk, a corporate attorney, environmental advocate, and gardener, died on Nov. 17 in Calvary Hospice at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He was 92.

A highlight of his 35-year career at the New York City law firm Debevoise, Plimpton, Lyons & Gates was being part of the team that rescued the Chrysler Corporation from bankruptcy in 1980. This dramatic "largest corporate rescue mission ever attempted" is well documented in James B. Stewart's 1983 book "The Partners."

Mr. Kahn was born in New York City on April 25, 1931, to Lucille P. Kahn and David E. Kahn. He spent part of his childhood in Scarsdale, N.Y., until World War II, when his family returned to New York City. He attended the Riverdale School in the Bronx, and then Harvard College, graduating in 1952. He went on to Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Admitted to the New York Bar in 1955, he joined Debevoise, Plimpton, Lyons & Gates as an associate, rising to become a partner there in 1963 and retiring from the firm, now known as Debevoise & Plimpton, in 1990.

Nonprofit service was an important part of his working years in New York City, where he served on the boards of the Foundation for Child Development, the Emerson School, the American Society for Psychical Research, the C.G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology, and the Barker Foundation.

"He was particularly happy to have helped with the preservation of Grand Central Station and Central Park's restoration, two of his favorite New York City places, and to have helped with the founding of ACT, the Amazon Conservation Team," his family wrote.

Montauk was his "most loved place to be," they said. One hot summer in the early 1940s he drove out from the city with his mother and brother, David, for a break while his father was in Washington helping with the war effort. "He fell in love with the beach and ocean as have so many others, returning every summer thereafter for a vacation. He often told stories of the old Montauk days and renting at the Chalet (now Sole East) or the little old cottage on the dunes in town, or the haunted Satterlee house," his family recalled.

In 1966, he bought his own house there, a Tudor-style house built in 1931 on Lake Montauk. He retired to live there full time in 1991.

He had three sons with his first wife, Judith. On July 21, 1983, he married Elaine Peterson.

In retirement, his "passion for the protection of Montauk's inherent beauty of place led him to work tirelessly for two local environmental organizations, the Group for the South Fork, now named the Group for the East End, and the Concerned Citizens of Montauk," Ms. Peterson wrote. He served on the boards of both organizations, and also served for many years on the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee.

Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, praised Mr. Kahn as "a passionate, articulate, and dedicated member and officer" of the Group's board for several decades. "As a strategic leader on the Group's legal committee, he worked with diligence and remarkable foresight about the complex implications of virtually every substantive issue. His wisdom built a better and stronger organization, and his discernment ensured that scarce resources were always carefully committed to those campaigns that delivered the very best long-term outcomes for the environment of eastern Long Island."

Bill Akin, who served as C.C.O.M.'s president for 10 years, said he was "exceedingly grateful to have had the chance to work closely" with Mr. Kahn. "Richard always cut to the heart of whatever issue we were dealing with. Whenever he finished speaking, whether it was to three people or 30, there was always a pause as if everyone needed to stop, realizing they had just learned something new. He was a passionate defender of Montauk's environment. And I never heard him say that he owned any property, only that he was a steward of the land."

When Mr. Kahn wasn't walking the beaches and trails of Montauk with his dogs and family, always armed with a plastic bag to pick up garbage along the way, he was gardening at home, kayaking on the lake, bicycling around the neighborhood, or listening to classical music.

His parents had a close relationship with the psychic Edgar Cayce, the writers Gerald Heard, Thomas Sugrue, and Aldous Huxley, and other "thinkers of the mid-20th century," his wife wrote, and that, combined with his own participation in clinical trials of a new drug, LSD, in the 1950s nurtured "a serious interest in spiritual enlightenment." Mr. Kahn "explored the practices of tai chi, meditation, Jungian analysis and group dream work, revealing the fascinating duality of someone who could deftly navigate the material minutiae of the corporate legal world while always maintaining and cultivating an otherworldly perspective."

His friends and family members from different generations and different parts of his life remembered him as "a mentor who offered them wit and wisdom, often with a dark humor and always with a brilliant intellect, alongside a nonjudgmental acceptance of who they were," his wife wrote. "He encouraged open-mindedness and self-acceptance and was seen as a positive role model for many people who had not found one elsewhere. He will be greatly missed by those who knew him and dearly remembered for his generosity of spirit."

In addition to his wife, who lives in Montauk, he is survived by his former wife, Judith Kahn of Red Hook, N.Y., and by his sons: Jason Kahn and his wife, Effie Shu, of Chevy Chase, Md., Adam Kahn and his wife, Kim Smith, of Boston, and Alex Kahn and his wife, Sophia Michahelles, of Red Hook. He is also survived by seven grandchildren, Evan Kahn of Brooklyn, Alison Kahn and Roland Kahn of Chevy Chase, Jacob Kahn, Ethan Kahn, and Aiden Kahn of Boston, and Alida Kahn of Red Hook, and by two nephews and a niece.

There is no memorial service planned at present. His family has suggested donations in his honor to C.C.O.M., Group for the East End, Music for Montauk, the Montauk Historical Society, or the Amazon Conservation Team.

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