Volume 77 / Number 50 - May 14 - 20, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


John Jay Iselin, 74, headed Cooper Union and WNET

By Albert Amateau

John Jay Iselin, president of The Cooper Union from 1988 to 1998 after a distinguished career as president of the public television station WNET Channel 13, died Tues., May 6, of pneumonia at the age of 74.

As president of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Jay Iselin completed a $50 million capital campaign in 1998 to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the founding of the renowned school.

He enhanced The Cooper Union schools of art, architecture and engineering by creating endowed professorships and added new deans for the arts and humanities faculty. Shortly after his retirement from The Cooper Union he became president of the Marconi International Fellowship Foundation at Columbia University. The foundation supports innovations in telecommunications.

In May 2004, Queen Elizabeth II of England awarded him an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his outstanding contribution to British television interests in the U.S. and his services to Cambridge University and the Marshall Scholarships. Iselin served for 20 years on the board of the American Friends of Cambridge University, where he was a Marshall Scholar, and had chaired the New York Marshall Selection Committee since October 2001.

While president of Channel 13, Iselin approved a partnership with Granada Television of Manchester, England, which resulted in a series of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited.”

In the early 1960s he worked as a reporter for Newsweek covering the Justice Department under Robert Kennedy and later became national affairs editor for the magazine. He then joined Harper & Row, the book publishers.

He joined WNET as general manager in 1971. While he was there, the annual budget increased from $15 million to $80 million and the station became the leading producer of programming for the Public Broadcasting Service, an organization of about 300 noncommercial stations. Under Iselin, Channel 13 originated successful programs, including “Great Performances,” “Nature,” “Live From Lincoln Center” and “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.”

A descendant of John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S., Iselin graduated from Harvard and went to Cambridge where he earned a master’s degree, later earning a Ph.D. from Harvard.

He was born in Greenville, S.C., the son of Fanny Humphreys and William J. Iselin, a banker.

In addition to his wife of 51 years, Lea, two brothers, two sisters and five children and 13 grandchildren survive.

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