About Irving and Phyllis


Irving and Phyllis were friendly, industrious people from modest backgrounds who both loved animals. They met and married when they were working in New York City’s garment manufacturing center, where Irving went on to achieve great business success. During their lives together, they continually enjoyed the presence of wonderful pets that they dearly loved.


Business Success Leads to Devotion for Animal Welfare

Beginning in the 1960’s, when raincoats were only a sideline for manufacturers, Irving and his business partner successfully produced a unique brand of high-fashion women’s all-weather outerwear under their “Count Romi” label. Vintage Count Romi outerwear is still being sold on the internet. After Irving’s death Phyllis devoted virtually their entire wealth to a charitable trust for animal welfare, the forerunner of the present Irving and Phyllis Millstein Foundation.

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Robert Randell and the Millsteins

Robert, an attorney at law, and his wife Sandra provided legal, business, and personal assistance to the Millsteins starting in the 1960s. Irving and Phyllis' legacies continue today through the efforts of Randell family members who now serve as Foundation officials and work in concert with charitable organizations and communities that need assistance.

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Recollections of the Millsteins

By Robert J. Randell, Esq.  I was a younger lawyer in the mid-1960s, just moving into my own practice in Manhattan. The Millsteins had hired a law firm to handle a zoning violation charged against them in Long Island, New York. The firm asked me to assist in the Millsteins’ defense and as the matter progressed, I was given the case entirely.

 

The Millsteins had just purchased a three-family house as a gift to their housekeeper, who was retiring after many years of service. Although the house was in a beach community that was technically zoned for two-family dwellings, the municipality had permitted many houses in that zone to be converted to three-family dwellings. Beach communities often allowed such conversions, anxious to attract summer vacationers. Over time, such conversions resulted in increased market values, which was reflected in the Millsteins’ purchase price. The belated attempt by the municipality to reverse the area’s zoning practice resulted in zoning violations against the Millsteins and many other owners.  For the housekeeper, this resulted in both a loss of value for her new home and reduced potential for rental income.

The Millsteins, among others, fought the zoning enforcement attempts on legal grounds - that the long-established zoning policy amounted to a de facto zoning change, and that the belated zoning enforcement was an arbitrary and illegal attempt to use a “dead letter” law to “re-zone” a freely permitted zoning use that had existed for many years. Such challenges are not without legal precedent. This resulted in a full-scale court trial on constitutional and technical grounds, which lasted for nearly a month, and which resulted in a lengthy legal opinion in favor of the municipality. The Millsteins appealed the decision all the way to New York State’s highest court, which ultimately upheld the housing violation.  

Although their efforts were not successful, this story illustrates the Millsteins’ life-long commitment to loyalty, fairness, equity and charity.

During the extended period of the appeals, Phyllis Millstein began to consult with me about various other matters – sometimes dealing with her many pets, but generally relating to her family and social activities. Irving was at that time a partner in a growing clothing manufacturing business, the legal affairs of which were handled by others.

As the manufacturing business grew and the Millsteins prospered, they moved into a townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which they redesigned and completely renovated. Later they built a modern beach house on the far eastern south shore of Long Island, in Amagansett, where they spent their summers.

During those years, up through the late 1990’s, while the Millsteins were becoming increasingly prominent, I became more and more involved with both Irving and Phyllis’ personal affairs, and in some of Irving’s business dealings.  

Irving died in 1998 while he and Phyllis were staying at the house at Amagansett. He was buried on Long Island, in a setting they both admired. Phyllis continued spending the colder months in New York City and summers at Amagansett, while my office managed most of her affairs - I had her general power of attorney and also served as her health care proxy.


Phyllis was an instinctively generous, truthful, and trusting person. She was steadfastly loyal to those around her who were honest with her and who did not try to take advantage of her charitable nature.


One very memorable example of Phyllis’ generosity occurred after Irving’s death. My office was monitoring Phyllis’ bank accounts and expenses, and we noticed that she had written a personal check for a considerable amount to a woman of whom we had never heard. Phyllis explained that the woman was a young author whose writing she admired, who – having a young child and other burdens - could not afford the time off from her usual employment to finish the work she was then writing. The gift was a spontaneous effort by Phyllis to give her friend a chance to do so. This was typical of Phyllis.

In 2002, Phyllis became ill while spending the summer on Long Island. She was within hours of dying when she was discovered unconscious at the Amagansett house by her friend Richard Grimminger and his wife. They had become concerned about not being able to contact her. Richard, who had been Phyllis’ property caretaker for years, had a key to the house.  Phyllis remained ill for months and did not return to New York City until late into the following spring, after a long recovery and rehabilitation.


She then purchased a waterfront dwelling on Long Island’s south shore as a gift to the Grimmingers, in an area where she knew they had always wanted to live.

During the years before her death in 2009, Phyllis established a number of trusts, mostly for the support of institutions benefiting animals, including Tufts University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Through her will, she made a gift of $100,000 to her then long-time housekeeper, provided for the care of her many pets, and left the entire balance of her estate to a charitable trust for the benefit of animals, the forerunner of the present Irving and Phyllis Millstein Foundation.