Samuel Irving Newhouse Jr., known as universally “Si,” was remembered at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Theater in New York on Monday night as an avid art collector, a passionate lover of animals and restaurants — and the ideal steward of a magazine empire. The life of the chairman emeritus of Condé Nast, who died Oct. 1 at age 89, was memorialized by the star editors he hired; his brother, Donald Newhouse, and cousin, Jonathan Newhouse; producers David Geffen and Joel Silver; Leonard Lauder, and architect Rem Koolhaas.
“All of us who knew Si, at work or in the world, came away as excited by life as he was. That joy is what I will remember most, and the thing I now miss most acutely,” Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour told the crowd.
Donald Newhouse shared childhood anecdotes about his older brother.
“I first became acquainted with Si on or after August 5, 1929, but he left no impression on me,” he said to laughter. “My first memory of him was of digging a hole in a vacant lot opposite our home in Staten Island with our dad, and roasting potatoes in it.” The younger Newhouse reminisced about his brother, a studious boy who not only read but enjoyed “Finnegans Wake” and liked minestrone soup so much he ordered it as an appetizer and a dessert.
The speakers stood on stage against a backdrop of photos projected of themselves with Newhouse — except for New Yorker editor in chief David Remnick, who spoke against a backdrop of his magazine’s covers. The editors, who spoke in succession, remembered his hands-off approach, trust and dedication to magazines. (Interestingly, no current or former publishers spoke, with whom Newhouse could be less gentle and forgiving.) The speeches were interspersed with video reminisces from friends, including Isabella Rossellini, Frank Gehry and Larry Gagosian, as well as musical interludes.
“I firmly believe that for a company to succeed, the chief executive [officer] has to love what the company produces. The thing about Si was that he loved magazines. There was a reason that Condé Nast flourished so often under his directorship,” Vanity Fair’s outgoing editor in chief Graydon Carter said.
“I can honestly say that Si was the single most important person in my professional life — and one of the most important people in my personal life as well. His wisdom, his courage and his understanding brought out the best in those who worked for him, and made you feel less like an employee and more like a partner. The lavish budgets and the Concorde travel certainly helped in that,” Carter added wryly.
Wintour also injected a personal note to her speech: “The moment I was at my lowest, Si picked me up, dusted me off and gave me Vogue,” she said.
“He was The New Yorker’s most ardent reader. He bought The New Yorker in the same spirit he bought works of art,” Remnick said. “In aesthetic matters, Si was a modernist. But in the way he carried himself, in the behavior he admired, he was a traditionalist, a classicist.”
Geffen spoke about how Newhouse influenced him as an art collector and recalled how he would invariably praise the works he had sold to Geffen. Lauder remembered the polite way that his friend declined his request to kill a story. “He was a shy, brilliant, gentle giant,” Lauder said.
“Si possessed many virtues — intellectual brilliance, courtesy, creativity, a sense of aesthetics, honesty and a lack of pretense among them. But perhaps his greatest was a strength that is overlooked today: patience,” Jonathan Newhouse said. “The mantra among today’s Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is ‘fail early, fail often.’ Si’s was the opposite: Don’t accept failure, and keep going.”
A reception followed the memorial, where guests including fashion designers Ralph Lauren and Diane von Furstenberg; photographer Mario Testino; current and former Condé Nast employees such as Grace Coddington, Eva Chen, W editor in chief Stefano Tonchi, Hearst magazine president David Carey; former Gourmet editor in chief Ruth Reichl, and artist Jeff Koons mingled over canapés and Champagne.
“It’s moving to see so many friends and colleagues and the Newhouse family here to remember Si. Although I am sure the man himself would have preferred to call this gathering at dawn,” Wintour said of the event, which began at 5 p.m. — reminding everyone of Newhouse’s famed early hours and habit of meeting with publishers for breakfast at 7 a.m and editors at 8.