Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Rest in peace: Saint Agnes Varis

We heard today that Dr. Agnes Varis passed away on Friday.  She was 81.   Although I never met Dr. Varis, I felt very fond of her and often wished that I would cross paths with her at the Met.  I loved her attitude of generosity and admired her success as a self-made entrepreneur.   She was known as Saint Agnes in New York, by those who knew her or who knew of her because of her generosity.

She grew up in Brooklyn, the daughter of Greek immigrants.  She graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in chemistry and then NYU.  At age 39, she founded Agvar Chemicals, which is a leader in ingredients to generic pharmaceuticals.  She was proud of her success and strived to ensure it for other women.

She was an extremely generous patron of the arts, especially opera and jazz.  She put her money where her mouth was:   “I believe opera is for everyone, and so everyone should have access to it,” said Dr. Varis.    She gave away millions of dollars, simply by writing checks. 

She donated money to the Opera Orchestra of New York, the Jazz Foundation of America, Jazz at Lincoln Center and The Metropolitan Opera, among other arts organizations.    Personally, I encountered her generosity through the Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman Rush Ticket Program.  Any person could stand in line on Monday through Thursday to pay only $20 for an orchestra seat for that evening's opera at the Met.   That was 800 seats a week - $20.00 for a seat that would normally cost over $100.00!  Additionally, due to her generosity, weekend discount tickets were made available through an on-line lottery.    While I normally never mind sitting in the Family Circle, it is a treat to sit in an orchestra seat for a change.  It's also nice to fall back on when it's a weeknight and the house is sold out.

In February 2011, the Met Opera announced that the Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman Rush Ticket Program would continue for a 6th season in 2011 and 2012.   Last year, Met Opera General Manager Peter Gelb said, “Agnes Varis is justifiably beloved by opera fans for her saintly generosity.” said Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera." 

Saint Agnes, rest in peace indeed.

No comments: