Sue Ann Genet Lecture Series founder, benefactor dies
Leon Genet knew people. He knew a lot of people. Working as a real estate developer in Manhattan most of his life, he built a network of friends that allowed him to impact Syracuse University for over 20 years.
Genet, who died of pneumonia on March 1 at the age of 74, co-founded the Sue Ann Genet Lecture Series, in which he convinced some of the most influential people in the fashion and design industry to come to SU.
‘In the January issue of Vanity Fair, there is a photo of the 13 most influential people in American fashion and design,’ said Karen Bakke, chair of the fashion and design technology department, ‘six of them came here.’
According to Bakke, Genet was able to convince Martha Stewart, Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar De La Renta and Richard Simmons to come to the Hill, as well as the corporate executive officers of Nordstrom’s, Sears, The Home Depot and Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
Rarely did these influential people decide to come to SU without a fight, Bakke said, especially since none of them were paid a dime. Genet would not give up until each of the speakers agreed to fly up for the day. When they got here, Genet would ask them for donations to the school.
‘He loved getting a speaker for the Genet Lecture Series that was reluctant to come, because getting them there was like a chess game, and he said, ‘You have to see the whole board and not just your next move,” said Pam Genet, Leon’s daughter and SU alumna, in her eulogy last week.
Bakke said the lecture series was very helpful to many students because the people who came and spoke were entrepreneurs in the fashion industry, which is what the students were trying to become.
‘If you’re studying somebody and it’s in your textbook, and the next day they’re here, it’s a great thing,’ Bakke said.
Genet’s devotion to the fashion and design department goes back over 20 years, when his first wife, Sue Ann Genet, died in the late 1970s. When Pam, his oldest daughter, came to SU the next fall, Bakke, as well as Bill Hider, served as surrogate parents to Pam during her first semester.
Hider, who worked in the development office but now works in downtown Syracuse, said Genet pitched the idea of the lecture series as a way to memorialize his first wife. The program began in 1982 and ran until 2004.
All three of Genet’s daughters came to Syracuse. After they graduated, he continued to run the lecture series so other students could benefit from it as well.
Hider remembers Genet’s devotion to friends as one of his best qualities.
‘If Leon was your friend there is nothing he wouldn’t do for you,’ Hider said.
According to Hider, Genet got a runway at John F. Kennedy airport closed for a couple hours in order to make sure an acquaintance’s wedding would not be disturbed by air traffic.
One Christmas, Genet called a local toy store and convinced the manager to deliver two otherwise sold-out Cabbage Patch Kids dolls to Hider’s children.
‘He knew how to make things happen,’ Hider said.
Bakke said she will remember Genet for his great personality and devotion to SU.
‘Leon was a mensch,’ Bakke said. ‘He was one of the best human beings I’ve ever known.’
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