‘We were the best, best of friends’

Remembering Hewlett Harbor village Mayor Gerald Morganstern

Posted

They might have been the original “You had me at hello” couple.

When Karen Gibbs, 18, went on a blind date in May 1965 with Columbia University Law School student Gerald “Jerry” Morganstern, 22, he was saying good night when he added, “While I’ve got you here . . .”

Gibbs, who would become his wife, replied simply, “You’ve got me.”

Morganstern died at the Hewlett Harbor home that he and Karen shared on Jan. 29, at age 76.

The two married in 1968, a year after Morganstern began his legal career. They raised two sons, both of whom became doctors. They traveled the world, and were best friends. “I wish everyone the marriage, companionship and friendship we shared for 51 years,” Karen said. “We were the best, best of friends and always wanted to share each other’s company.”

The Morgansterns were members of the Inwood Country Club, where Jerry played golf.

“He was the most devoted father, grandfather and husband anyone could ever imagine,” his wife said, adding that their sons — Jeffrey, an adult gastroenterologist, and Bradley, a pediatric gastroenterologist — both graduated from Dartmouth, both work at Stony Brook University Hospital and, though they aren’t twins, are often mistaken for each other.

Their father was born in the Bronx on Dec. 19, 1942. His family moved to the Five Towns when Jerry was in ninth grade, and he graduated from Hewlett High School at age 16. He earned an undergraduate degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1963 and a law degree from Columbia University three years later.

Beginning his legal career in 1967 as a specialist in real estate transactional law at Hofheimer Gartlir & Gross, Morganstern rose to managing partner of the firm 33 years later. He joined Goetz Fitzpatrick in 2004, after Hofheimer Gartlir closed.

“Jerry had a great influence on our real estate practice and was widely respected in our firm and the industry,” said Aaron Boyajian, a managing partner at Goetz Fitzpatrick. “He will truly be missed.”

Morganstern served as an arbitrator in commercial real estate disputes for the Real Estate Board of New York, and was counsel to the director and president of The Bridge Inc., an organization that offers social services and a halfway house in Manhattan to help mentally disabled people learn life skills.

“He was the first person to employ a person [from The Bridge],” Karen said. “He had him in his law office, filling in for the receptionist and taking office photos.”

Morganstern belonged to the American and New York state bar associations, and was in his 10th year as president of B’nai B’rith Real Estate, a popular monthly luncheon forum at the Cornell Club in Manhattan that invites high-profile real estate executives to speak and hosts programs on the industry’s latest trends.

He served as a Hewlett Harbor village trustee, deputy mayor and mayor from 1990 to 2000. As a trustee, he acted as the village’s police commissioner and was editor in chief of the 1998 revision of its code book. He also served as chairman of Hewlett Harbor’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

“Jerry was clearly dedicated to Hewlett Harbor, and I always appreciated his legal acumen, which was always tempered by his desire to help residents in their requests to the village,” Trustee Tom Cohen said. “Very often during BZA cases, Jerry tried to enlighten new residents with the history and traditions in the village.”

In addition to his wife and sons, Morganstern is survived by a brother, Andrew, and four grandchildren, Daniel, Emily, Alex and Zachary. A funeral service was held at Boulevard-Riverside Chapel in Hewlett on Jan. 30. He was interred at Mt. Golda Cemetery in Huntington.

Current Hewlett Harbor Mayor Mark Weiss called Morganstern “a respected advocate” for the village who helped make it “one of the best places to live on Long Island.”

“His love of the village was second only to the love he had for his family,” Weiss added. “Jerry was passionate about enhancing all aspects of village life so that Hewlett Harbor would for decades come to be seen as an attractive place for young families to raise children and for seniors to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Jerry will be greatly missed.”