Leon Levy, 77; OppenheimerFunds Founder, Art Collector and Benefactor

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Leon Levy, who founded OppenheimerFunds Inc., the ninth-largest U.S. mutual fund group with more than $120 billion in assets, has died. He was 77.

Levy died Sunday at his home in Westchester County, north of New York City, after a series of heart attacks, according to his wife of 20 years, Shelby White.

With an investment of $200 that he received in bar mitzvah gifts at the age of 13, Levy amassed a fortune over the years as he built up Oppenheimer and Co. He gave millions to numerous institutions, becoming one of the nation’s most prolific philanthropists.


Levy retired as chairman of OppenheimerFunds at the end of last year. He started New York-based Oppenheimer in 1960. His company is owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance.

Levy was born in New York City. He served in the Army during World War II. After graduating from City College in New York in 1948, he began his financial career as a securities analyst at Hirsch and Co. in New York. In 2002, Levy’s net worth was $750 million, ranking him No. 313 among Forbes magazine’s 400 wealthiest Americans.

His investing mantra was that psychology is as important as information in predicting market behavior. An Oppenheimer partner once dubbed him the “partner in charge of interplanetary affairs.” He didn’t see the securities markets as a science, and debunked the efficient-market theory in favor of “the caribou factor,” holding that unexpected events can throw financial calculations out of whack.


Levy and his wife were major art collectors. More than 200 pieces from their collection of Greek and Roman art were shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1990. In 1995, they gave $20 million to the New York City museum to renovate the section displaying Roman art.

He played a leading role as a member in a number of nonprofit organizations and was a trustee of Rockefeller University, and the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University.

As a philanthropist, Levy also created educational programs at universities and colleges, including Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Levy was a trustee at Bard. He established the Jerome Levy Economics Institute, named for his father, which produces economic research and forecasts. Leon Botstein, president of Bard, said Levy was the school’s leading benefactor for more than 20 years, and had pledged $50 million two years ago.


In addition to his wife, survivors include a daughter, Tracy White; and a brother, S.J. Levy of Somers, N.Y. Services will be held Wednesday at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City.