Anthony "Tony" Drexel Duke, founder of Boys & Girls Harbor and Living Landmark, dies at 95

Apr 30, 2014, 17:58 ET from Boys & Girls Harbor

NEW YORK, April 30, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Anthony "Tony" Drexel Duke, founder and president emeritus of Boys & Girls Harbor, died today after a long battle with cancer. He was 95. The Harbor community, while grieving Tony's death, will observe his passing by celebrating his extraordinary legacy.

Tony spent a lifetime educating children, growing the Harbor, founded in 1937, from a small summer camp for 12 inner-city boys to a multidisciplinary education and arts organization that serves more than 1,000 students and their families.

"Tony's passion and dedication to the Harbor and its students will be a lasting legacy," said Dr. Thomas Howard, Executive Director. "His vision for the Harbor will carry on through the over 1,000 students that the Harbor continues to support with best-in-class education and arts programming. Our thoughts are with his family and friends."

Tony established Boys & Girls Harbor (originally Boys Harbor) after noting that "a clear need wasn't being filled by the city or by leading social service organizations." His goal was to empower underserved children to become full, productive participants in society through education, cultural enrichment, and social services. The camp's first counselors included U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell and New York Mayor Robert Wagner.

By 1977, the Harbor moved to its current headquarters in East Harlem. In 2001, it became one of the first nonprofits to establish a charter school in NYS. To date, more than 50,000 young people have attended the Harbor.

Tony's values were instilled in him by his mother, about whom he wrote in his biography Uncharted Course, and through his experiences at St. Paul's School and Princeton University.

After graduating, Tony went on to have a distinguished career in both the military and the private sector. He served as assistant naval attaché in 1941, as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, as commanding officer on the USS LST-530, and as a division commander in the Battle of Normandy. He represented the International Rescue Committee during the Vietnam War and during the 1983 Mariel Refugee Crisis in Cuba. He also served on the advisory council of the U.S. Naval Academy. Tony was awarded three battle stars and a bronze star.

As a professional, Tony worked for several family-owned businesses, including Duke International Import/Export Company, as vice president, and A.D. Duke Realty, as president. He was later director of the American National Bank.

Tony's record of civic work reflects a commitment to serving others. He was a member of the New York City Youth Board and also its commissioner and an advocate for young people as part of the Big Brother Movement, Speedwell Services for Children, and the Henry Street Settlement.

Said President Bill Clinton of Tony's impact, "America's strength as a nation always has depended on individuals who have been willing to work for the common good. From his brave service in World War II to his tireless advocacy on behalf of our youth, Tony Duke has epitomized this fine tradition."

Tony's generosity was widely known, but he was far more than a patron. From the Harbor's early days, Tony developed personal relationships with Harbor staff, students, and alumni. "Though I have been called a philanthropist, I never felt that word fit," Tony said. "It suggests someone who donates wads of money from afar. I was involved in everything at the Harbor."

"Tony Duke was a true Living Legend that taught me the value of giving back and making a difference. He dedicated his life to educating children and has left a long-lasting impact on the many lives he's touched through his spirit and vision," said Craig M. Overlander, Harbor Board President. "It is with sadness and determined resolve that we carry on in the footsteps of our friend and mentor, and celebrate the life of this extraordinary man."

In 2011, Tony sold the 26-acre site of the original camp to the town of East Hampton for $7.3 million and the money was donated to the Harbor. From rallying friends and family to support his camp to his final days, Tony focused on ensuring that the Harbor served as a home and learning environment for students. "I mourn the loss of my friend Tony Duke, and reflect on all of the many good times that we've shared," said Stephen J. Dannhauser, Board Chairman. "Tony opened his heart and home to us all; it was a rare privilege to have known him and have helped him continue the mission of Boys & Girls Harbor. Tony enhanced the lives of all whom he touched, particularly the lives of thousands of inner city children he served over many wonderful years at the Harbor."

"In my life, I have been fortunate to have had several families. There is my own family: my mother and father and brother and grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews, and my 11 children, who've made me so proud, as well as their children and their children's children," Tony said. "There is my St. Paul's family, there is my Navy family, and there is the largest of them all—my Harbor family. [More than] seventy-five years later, I am still close to countless Harbor alumni and regularly encounter many others who have come through over the years. I receive calls and visits all the time, and one of the pleasures of my life is walking on the street and running into someone who spent time at the Harbor as a child."

With a heavy heart, Boys & Girls Harbor says goodbye to our beloved founder Tony Duke, a true living legend.

Contact: Melissa Potter

SOURCE Boys & Girls Harbor