February 14, 1931
|Occupation(s)||fashion model |
|Spouse||Bernard Gerald Cantor (1977–1996)|
|Awards||Legion of Honour – Officer (2017)|
Iris Cantor is a New York City and Los Angeles -based philanthropist, with a primary interest in medicine and the arts. Cited as among the 50 top contributors in the United States, as head of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, her foundation has donated several hundred million dollars to museums, universities and hospitals since 1978.
Born Iris Bazel (February 14, 1931), the first daughter of Fay and Al Bazel, she grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York City. Her mother was originally from Pennsylvania and her father was a Jewish Russian immigrant. Her younger sister Enid was born three years later.
Drawn to Manhattan, she worked as a fashion model and stockbroker before eventually being hired by bond brokerage Cantor Fitzgerald around 1967, as an executive secretary. In 1977, she married the firm's founder and majority owner, Bernard Gerald Cantor. It was her third marriage, and lasted nearly 20 years until his death in 1996. By this time, "Bernie" Cantor had amassed a fortune said to exceed $500 million, receiving $50 million in annual dividends as of 1995.
Subsequent to his business success, Mr. Cantor became a well-regarded art collector, and most notably had acquired over 750 sculptures and drawings by Auguste Rodin, and many American and European masters' paintings.
In 1978, the year after their union, the Cantors founded the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation as a vehicle for their philanthropy. In 1996, after acrimonious litigation with her husband's successor, Mrs. Cantor sold her inherited 55% stake to the 170 limited partners of Cantor Fitzgerald, and the company agreed to additionally fund the foundation.
Over the years, the foundation has donated approximately 450 Rodin pieces to museums around the world, with many going to New York's Metropolitan Museum and Brooklyn Museum, Stanford University and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In addition to the artworks, the foundation has financed numerous museum and university expansions:
Since 1995, she has been a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum and the Brooklyn Museum, as well as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and North Carolina Museum of Art among others.
She has made additional donations to medical facilities and foundations:
Cantor has sat on the Board of Trustees of New York-Presbyterian Hospital since 1989. Other board memberships include Exploring the Arts, and the Dean's Committee of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
Mrs. Cantor has received numerous awards and honorary degrees, including a National Medal of Arts awarded by President Clinton in 1995,. For her work promoting appreciation for the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, she was made a Knight in France's Legion of Honour in 2000, which was upgraded to an Officer on 20 March 2017.
In 2011, she sold the 34,000 square foot Bel-Air mansion that Bernie had built for her, for a reported $40 million.