HARRIS L. PRESENT
(7/1/1913 - 7/20/2010)
Harris L. Present lived a rich and distinguished life largely because of his belief in human values that enabled him to be active in his chosen profession of law until well into his 90s. After working in the garment district selling furs for a number of years, Mr. Present became a lawyer in 1940. As a lawyer, Mr. Present was attracted to the most difficult and complex cases and matters because he had an unusual talent in bringing people together and getting them to work out their differences. He often drew the admiration of those individuals and lawyers on the other side of the controversy.
Mr. Present, who often said that he “was born to be a lawyer,” was extremely proud that he had been President of the Law Review at New York University Law School, having served for long multi-year terms some 25 years apart. Mr. Present was stimulated by people many years his junior and was always willing to listen to problems of others and to share their unusual ideas that he may have not been aware of.
In the mid-1950s, Mr. Present handled an extremely important case in New York City involving the displacement of upwards of 8,000 people when the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex was about to be constructed. Mr. Present worked with a number of politicians over a period of years to resolve amicably a potentially dire situation, in which, ultimately, all of the eight thousand middle class residents were relocated and the major Lincoln Center project was allowed to proceed. Mr. Present appeared on the front page of The New York Times in September of 1957, when he was negotiating with John Rockefeller, among others, to resolve the matter.
Mr. Present lived by several basic self-imposed principles, one of which was that no one should speak any vulgarity. During his lifetime, he would not utter a vulgar word, and if anyone ever uttered a foul word in his presence, he would admonish that person; if that person persisted, he would walk out of the room. Mr. Present was a long time non-smoking advocate, dating back to the 1950s, before the dangers of second hand smoke became known to the public. Mr. Present lived a balanced and disciplined life and demonstrated strong will power during his lifetime, including never having consumed alcoholic beverages, not even at his wedding. As a result, he maintained his good health until his mid-90s.
Mr. Present had a passion for writing “Letters to the Editor” to The New York Times. He had the ability to make a specific point using very few words on almost any topic, especially on topics involving complicated issues. “Letters to the Editor” written by Mr. Present appeared in The Times over a period of some 60 years. It has been estimated that Mr. Present probably had more “Letters to The Editor” published in The New York Times than by any other person.
Mr. Present had a long affinity with the growing and developing Hispanic population of New York City over the decades. He is said to have formed more corporations for his Puerto Rican clients than any other lawyer.
Mr. Present was often asked by others to enter into politics, probably because public speaking, especially in his early years, was one of his fortes. However, he would never consider going into politics because he did not want to become involved in any dishonesty or corruption.
Mr. Present is survived by his wife, Doris, a son, Randolph S. Present, a daughter, Suzanne Present, a brother, Arthur Present, and two nephews, Robert S. Dickstein and Jerry Dickstein.