Legendary philanthropist Lily Safra dies at 87

Safra and her fourth husband, brilliant Lebanese-born Brazilian banker Edmond Safra, contributed with extraordinary generosity to numerous causes and individuals in some 40 countries.

 Lily Safra (L), widow of billionaire Edmond Safra arrives with her lawyer Georges Kiejman (R) at Monaco law courts to attend the trial of American nurse Ted Maher charged in the arson death of billionaire Edmond Safra, November 21, 2002. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Lily Safra (L), widow of billionaire Edmond Safra arrives with her lawyer Georges Kiejman (R) at Monaco law courts to attend the trial of American nurse Ted Maher charged in the arson death of billionaire Edmond Safra, November 21, 2002.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Brazilian-born Lily Safra, the legendary billionaire philanthropist and socialite, died in Geneva on Saturday, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 87.

Despite their enormous wealth, Safra and her fourth husband, the brilliant Lebanese-born Brazilian banker Edmond Safra, kept their fingers on the pulse of the less fortunate in society and contributed with extraordinary generosity to numerous causes and individuals in some 40 countries.

Together, they established a charitable foundation through which they supported education, medicine, scientific research, religion, the arts, academia and many humanitarian projects.

Safra's widowhood and philanthropy

Following the tragic death of her husband in bizarre circumstances in their home in Monaco in December 1999, Lily Safra became chairwoman of the foundation. In the ensuing years, she devoted much of her life to improving the quality of life for other people and giving dignity to those whose socioeconomic circumstances had robbed them of dignity in too many cases.

Brazilian philanthropist and social figure Lily Safra arrives to attend the inauguration of the Institut Claude Pompidou, a new centre on the Alzheimer disease, in Nice March 10, 2014. (credit: REUTERS)Brazilian philanthropist and social figure Lily Safra arrives to attend the inauguration of the Institut Claude Pompidou, a new centre on the Alzheimer disease, in Nice March 10, 2014. (credit: REUTERS)

With her giving, she continued to link the name of her husband with her own so that many of the large-scale gifts to institutions and organizations are in the names of Lily and Edmond Safra.

Safra Square, which houses the offices of the Jerusalem Municipality, is named for her husband’s parents, Jacob and Ester Safra, who instilled charitable values into their children.

Among the many causes supported and sometimes founded in Israel by the Safra Foundation are the Israel Scholarship Education Foundation (ISEF), which encourages and promotes higher education and provides scholarships for gifted Israeli children, mainly those living in peripheral communities; Keren Shemesh, which provides loans and expert mentoring to young people wishing to start small businesses; and Window to Tomorrow, a program for the distribution of computers and technology training to more than 12,000 families in Arab-Israeli communities.

Other causes and institutions include the Israel Museum, the Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Hadassah University-Medical Center in Jerusalem, residential treatment for severely disabled children, the Science Campus and Brain Research Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Haifa, Yad Vashem, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, renovation projects at the Western Wall, synagogues, the printing of sets of Bibles and the Babylonian Talmud and much more.

In its global support, the foundation has helped the children of Chernobyl, built a youth village for orphans in Rwanda and even managed to supply food, medicines, clothing and other necessities for the elderly in Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.

Lily Safra is survived by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who will remain loyal to her legacy of giving.