Coming of Age

Abraham Briloff, an alumnus and the Emanuel Saxe Distinguished Professor (Emeritus) of Accountancy. The 95-year-old joined Baruch’s accountancy department in 1944.

Coming of Age

Abraham Briloff (’37, MSEd ’41) Turns 95

September 2012  |  News & Notes, Online Exclusives

Like Professor Briloff himself, tributes to this Baruch legend never grow old. All Baruchians know the feet-to-the-fire, conscience-of-accounting Briloff, but at the College’s celebration of his 95th birthday on July 19, 2012, Briloff shared a more personal side, recollecting moments on his journey to this extraordinary birthday.

“It is particularly fitting that we celebrate my 95th birthday at Baruch College,” he said. “On July 19, 1930, at the age of 13, I stood at my bar mitzvah and said, ‘Today I am a man.’ I was born again in February 1934, when I entered City College Downtown/Baruch and took Professor Emanuel Saxe’s Estate Planning course. In 1935 CPAs were considered journeyman bookkeepers, but Manny Saxe presented accountancy as an advanced body of knowledge, a profession that required a commitment to service. From him I learned what ‘assets equal accountability’ really means.”

Listening with rapt attention to Briloff’s words were dozens of friends and fellow Baruchians. Former students Bert Mitchell (’63, MBA ’68, LLD [Hon.] ’88) and Charles Dreifus (’66, MBA ’73) rose to share stories of Briloff’s impact on their lives and the lives of others.

“How many students would you guess you have taught over the years?” asked Bert Mitchell, attempting to quantify Briloff’s far-reaching influence. “I was Abe’s student about 50 years ago,” Mitchell remembered, “but the pensive, gripping auditory of his lectures still rings in my ears. . . . I attribute my own success in accountancy to the application of the principles that Professor Briloff inculcated in me.” Mitchell is one of the most influential accountants in the U.S., the former chairman and CEO of Mitchell & Titus, LLP, the nation’s largest minority-owned accounting firm (which he founded in 1974). He is also a Trustee Emeritus of The Baruch College Fund.

Next to speak was Charles Dreifus, one of Briloff’s greatest admirers. “This is a renaissance individual; there is no other accountant like him,” Dreifus said. “This man has been a beacon in the business world. When he sees wrong, he speaks his mind.” Dreifus dated Briloff’s influence on his life from September 1966. To this day, Dreifus still calls his former professor mentor and friend. “He is a guide, an inspiration,” said Dreifus, now an award-winning portfolio manager for Royce Special Equity Fund and principal of Royce & Associates and current Baruch College Fund Trustee. As a testament to his admiration, in 1995 Dreifus endowed the Abraham J. Briloff Prizes in Ethics, awarded annually to a faculty member who has written an important current article, essay, or book on ethics and to a student who has written an outstanding research paper on ethics and current events.

One of the most memorable moments from the birthday luncheon came when famed entertainer Harry Belafonte took to the podium. Belafonte led party attendees in a rousing version of “Happy Birthday.” In the 1960s, Belafonte hired Briloff as his tax adviser. “But Abe was more than that,” Belafonte recalled. “He instructed me in integrity, reality, truth, and he is a big part of the lives of a lot of people.”

Briloff himself offered the afternoon’s closing sentiments, effortlessly mixing humor and deep feeling, obviously moved by the outpouring of affection. “People say that I’m in the golden years,” Briloff intoned, “and some in their golden years realize that these times can be tinny. But I’m enjoying the highest caret of gold there could be.”

Also among those celebrating with Briloff and company were his two daughters Leonore Briloff and Alice Ebenstein and granddaughter Julie Ebenstein as well as alumni Claire Mason (’40) and Arthur Ainsberg (’68, MBA ’72); Stan Ross Department of Accountancy Professors Jianming (Jimmy) Yee, Douglas Carmichael, Steven Lilien, Samuel Dyckman (’41), and Norman Strauss (’63, MBA ’69); and current Baruch College President Mitchel B. Wallerstein and former Baruch College President Kathleen Waldron.

—Diane Harrigan

The Abraham Briloff Scholarship

Given the overwhelming love for Professor Briloff, it is not surprising that Baruch alumni are currently spearheading the endowment of a scholarship in his honor. If you are interested in contributing to the Abraham Briloff Scholarship, please contact David Shanton at david.shanton@baruch.cuny.edu or at 646-660-6065.

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