In September the Renaissance Society of America lost a beloved and generous friend. Unlike most friends of the RSA, George Labalme was not a scholar of the Renaissance. By trade he was an architect and industrial designer, known indirectly among the gourmands of the world for the design of the Grey Poupon mustard jar. As a true cosmopolitan, however, his mark on the world penetrated far more deeply than his professional achievements, which included his long association with his uncle, the industrial designer Raymond Loewy.
Born in Paris, young George and his family moved to New York in that awful year of 1939, and in New York he grew to become a fixture of cultural commitment. He met and married Patsy Hochschild, who took her PhD in History at Harvard, wrote distinguished work on Venetian humanism, and was a pioneer in what we would now call Queer studies. Through her George entered the world of the Renaissance and the humanities, but he became more than a tag-along husband. He served as the vice president of the New York Public Library; dedicated himself along with Patsy to helping the Brearley School, the Institute for Advanced Studies, and the American Academy in Rome; was a trustee of several museums and foundations including The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, which supports scholarship about and art restoration in Venice; and for many years benefited the RSA as its Treasurer. The financial strength of the RSA owes a great deal to George’s friendship, and I would venture that most scholars of the Renaissance today are unaware of how much George Labalme has assisted their work.
To define George’s relationship to Renaissance studies by listing his institutional commitments, however, would miss the heart of the matter. George was a larger-than-life figure with his hearty laugh, his openhearted manner, and his love of doing good deeds. I first met George and Patsy when I was still a mere graduate student. The late Myron Gilmore invited me to a private dinner at I Tatti to meet them, and although I felt completely out of my element, the Labalmes made me feel comfortable and at home. Over the years there were many other meetings with George at his favorite haunts, including one when he advised Bill Kennedy and me about how to raise money for the RSA. George very carefully cultivated scholars, scholarly associations, and cultural figures that were of immense importance to Renaissance studies, US and beyond. He served a critical function as broker, connecting scholars to funders in the US, UK, Italy, and worldwide. Without that networking, Renaissance studies would be nothing like the flourishing field that it is today.
For many years we worked together to sustain the American (now International) Friends of the Marciana Library, an organization George cooked up to help that venerable but beleaguered institution. George became a great lover of all things Venetian and spent weeks there every year. One of his recent singular achievements was the Poetry of Light exhibition in 2014–15 of 140 drawings from the National Gallery put on at the Correr Museum in Venice. George died the gentleman he was, strolling on the streets of New York dressed in an elegant suit complete with his Venetian suspenders.
New York Times obituary