Pearl Weill, ‘First Lady of Long Beach,’ dies at 91

Weill was active in Long Beach and New York state politics for decades, including as a member of the Long Beach City Council, and gained a reputation as an energetic woman-about-town who volunteered her time to improve the community in which she lived for more than 60 years. “What a heart she had,” said her son, Barry Weill. “And how hard she worked for everyone in the city, religiously and politically.”
An active Democrat and a devout Jew, Weill was loved by people of varying political affiliations, religions and ethnic backgrounds, her son said. “She touched a lot of lives here,” he said. “She had the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever known.”
Weill was a Long Beach councilwoman for a total of 20 years, from 1974 to 1976 and again from 1981 to 1999, and served as council vice president. According to her son, she would often give her home phone number to constituents, and as a result got numerous calls on any given day about everything from posting new stop signs to fixing potholes. Barry once asked his mother why she would not let someone else handle the calls, and she replied, “No, I’m going to handle it. That’s my job. I want to help people.”
Weill served as New York State chairwoman of the 20th Assembly District from 1988 to 2008, and president of the Long Beach Harry S. Truman Democratic Club. She was a founding member of the state Democratic Women’s Leadership Council, and was appointed by Gov. Mario Cuomo to the Long Island Economic Commission.
“She gave her heart and soul, not only to the Democratic party, but to all of Long Beach,” said Larry Elovich, a former Long Beach Democratic leader, who first met Weill in 1960. Elovich called Weill “an institution unto herself,” adding that her smiling face was known around Long Beach life: She was the first woman member of the Kiwanis Club, vice chairwoman of the Long Beach Arthritis Foundation and president of the Long Beach branch of the American Cancer Society.
Her volunteerism was honored by a variety of organizations, and while she was given numerous awards, three of them held a special place in her heart, Barry said. The Long Beach Senior Center was dedicated in her name; she was the only two-time recipient of the Angel & Humanity Award, given by the Stephanie Joyce Kahn Foundation; and she was presented the Trailblazer Award for the New Millennium by the Nassau County Legislature for her work inspiring women.
Born in Brooklyn on May 19, 1917, Weill moved with her husband, Max, to Long Beach in 1944, where they raised Barry, their only child. After she worked at her father’s handbag manufacturing company, she started her own business, Pearl Weill Inc., which sold scarves and fashion accessories internationally. She sold the Manhattan-based business after 20 years of operation, after which she got involved in the Long Beach community.
Barry said that his father gave his wife of 67 years endless support while she ran her business and helped improve the lives of Long Beach residents. Max died in February 2008.
After his mother’s death, Barry spoke to an aide at the Komanoff Center for Geriatric and Rehabilitation Medicine in Long Beach, where Weill spent her final days, and discovered that his mother not only raised money for the center, but also regularly visited many of the patients and often asked what she could do to help them. According to Barry, the aide said his mother was much loved by everyone at the center.
According to her friend Lisa Wisel, a dance therapist, the last group with which Weill was involved was the seniors who took part in Wisel’s classes at the center. “I’m so grateful that the circle of friends she created there were able to give back to her the love that she gave in so many other circles her entire life,” Wisel said.
Weill co-founded the dance programs with Wisel in 1998 after breaking her hip and using dance as rehabilitation. “I think the thing that Pearl loved about dancing is there’s joy in it,” said Wisel, who brought the program to other seniors organizations like the Magnolia Senior Center. “And she so very much loved to bring joy to people.”
Wisel said that connecting with and helping people was Weill’s mission in life, and she showed her love by giving people not only compliments, but little gifts, such as angels. Aside from people, Weill’s other interest was cars. Barry and his father gave her a bright yellow Ford Thunderbird convertible for her 85th birthday, and could be seen driving it around Long Beach with the top down.
Barry also recalled his mother’s love of the music at the Christian Light Baptist Church.
Wisel laughed as she remembered her friend’s saucy attitude. “She never gave a boring speech because she always added something a little spicy,” Wisel chuckled.
Weill is survived by a brother, Marvin Haber, of Dayton, Ohio, and a sister, Theresa Sussman, of Miami. A private service was held Monday at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, and Barry said the family is planning a public memorial service for members of the community, on a date to be determined.
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