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Five Generations of Service

Ruth Finley Lein

January 14, 1920 August 25, 2018
Ruth Finley Lein
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Obituary for Ruth Finley Lein

Ruth Finley Lein, 98, of NY, NY passed away Saturday, August 25, 2018 at the Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC.

She was the daughter of the late Joseph and Anna (Monoson) Finberg of Haverhill.Joseph emigrated to the U.S., in steerage from Russia at age 14 and was a dentist in Haverhill after graduating from M.I.T.

The quiet, yet profoundly powerful leadership role that Ruth Finley Lein played as a central figure in the fashion industry for over 70 years was nothing short of extraordinary.

As a child who grew up in the 1920s in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Ms. Finley never fit into the traditional female role that was envisioned for her, and from a young age, her entrepreneurial drive was unquenchable.

Ms. Finley knew that the small town life of Haverhill was not for her, and after high school, she wanted to go to college, which in and of itself was a radical idea for a Haverhill girl living in the 1930s. Ms. Finley discussed college and work with her father beginning when she was twelve and he understood her ambitions, but they agreed to keep the discussions secret from her mother, who certainly would not have approved. Ms. Finley shared her vision of one day running her own company and talked with him about her interest in developing a new, original kind of business she could own as she raised a family.

Ms. Finley ultimately decided to go to Simmons College in Boston, where she studied journalism and was the editor-in-chief of the Simmons newspaper. When she visited the 1939 World’s Fair at the age of 19, Ms. Finley fell in love with New York and knew that that was where she wanted to live. During summers and breaks, Ms. Finley wrote for The Boston Herald, as well as The New York Herald Tribune. After college, when Ms. Finley came to New York, she took her first job as a window dresser at Lord & Taylor, where she experienced the latest designers first hand.

The original idea for her legendary Fashion Calendar began to take shape when Ms. Finley came to New York one summer to visit two fashion writers who were friends of her mother. They were very upset that Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman had invited them to events at the same time. After overhearing this discussion, Ms. Finley had the idea of starting the Fashion Calendar as a service that participating designers and subscribers would pay for in order to avoid conflict and unnecessary competition among designers for time slots, models and venues.

Although it took several years for her Fashion Calendar to turn a profit and Ms. Finley struggled to get others to treat her as a professional, she never wavered in her determination to keep her fledging publication afloat. With a $1,000 loan, she rented a bedbug-ridden $55 a month apartment at 6 West 52nd Street, and together with her roommate, went to work as an usher to make ends meet. The typist who came to help put the calendar together on Tuesday nights was non-other than 18-year-old Doris Roberts, now better known as Raymond’s mother on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

After two years in business, Ms. Finley got married, moved to Long Island and had two sons, but never stopped working. She and her husband Hank Green, a women’s clothing buyer, divorced after five years of marriage, so once again, Ms. Finley defied commonly accepted behavior.

After divorcing her first husband, Ms. Finley married Irving Lein, a women’s clothing manufacturer. They moved back to New York City and Ruth gave birth to her third son, Larry, in 1955. However, Irving Lein died suddenly in 1959 at age 41, leaving Ms. Finley a single mother of three boys, ages 11, 8, and 3, at the age of 39. Ms. Finley faced the immense challenge of balancing a full-time business with the job of being a full-time mother all on her own.

Ruthalways valued family above all else and was a soccer mom before soccer moms even existed. She avoided traveling for business, had an office right next to her apartment so she could make her boys’ lunches every day, and she worked at night after they went to sleep, and managed to be President of every Parents’ Association at her children’s schools and Den Mother of the Cub Scout troops.

Ms. Finley’s business endeavors were encouraged by the support of renowned publicist Eleanor Lambert, and she got a big break after a scheduling-related incident with Norman Norell occurred. Mr. Norell, who initially spurned Ruth’s Fashion Calendar, immediately realized its value when his black-tie evening show ended up being scheduled at the same time as a major charity event and he had to cancel. Thereafter he always insisted on personally scheduling his shows with Ms. Finley.

Unlike the Parisian Chambre de Syndicale, Ms. Finley made her calendar wholly democratic, welcoming new designers as soon as they found the wherewithal to show. The fashion industry changed radically under Ms. Finley’s watch, and her approach became a key element in America’s growing influence toward its current position as an international fashion super-power.

Throughout her 70 years in business, she freely gave her time and advice to established designers and newcomers alike, and the “never play favorites” rule became Ms. Finley’s trademark and her key to successfully navigating the political tides of the fashion industry. Diane Von Furstenberg often still tells the story of when she and Ms. Finley met. In 1972, when Von Furstenberg first moved to New York to launch her fashion career, she asked the editor of Vogue how she should get started. The editor advised her that she should first book a hotel room in which to show her collection, and second to call Ruth Finley.

Since then, Carolina Herrera has explained, "Ruth has been a constant for all of us designers. She’s the magic behind the scenes of fashion week.” In discussing Ms. Finley’s influence, Donna Karan was heard to say, “God bless anyone who can keep this industry together.”
As Fern Mallis, former senior vice president of IMG Fashion, once said, “You can’t do anything in this industry without checking with Ruth first. As long as I can remember, those pink pages had a prominent place on everyone’s desks.”

Ms. Finley was known for being relentlessly positive in dealing with people and believed that there was no problem or situation that could not be overcome. Although her business modernized and began offering an online version, and much communication moved to email, Ms. Finley never underestimated the importance of simply picking up the phone and working everything out with a personal touch.

Over her 70 years in business, Ruth managed to become the undisputed “air traffic controller” of the New York fashion industry and scheduled over 600 fashion shows during each of the 10-day Fashion Week events. She sold Fashion Calendar to the Council of Fashion Designers in 2014 and was lauded with a CFDA Board of Directors Tribute the same year.

Ms. Finley devoted herself to giving back, spearheading the Fashion Salutes City Meals on Wheels, for which she raised over $2,000,000, and leading the Board of Advisors for the High School of Fashion Industries. She was honored with innumerable industry and charitable awards.

At the same time that she built her business and championed the charities in which she believed, Ms. Finley built an extraordinary family, for many years on her own. From leaving Haverhill to attend college to founding her own business and not merely surviving but thriving in the fashion industry, Ms. Finley’s life was defined by her drive for independence and her clear, simple vision of what would make her happy: career and family. She was determined to retain sole control of her business until she was 94 and insisted that every single member of her extended family, even as it continued to grow, gather together for an annual reunion trip every December. Ms. Finley was a daily reader of The New York Times and avid Jeopardy fan. Her greatest joys in life were the moments she spent on the golf course with family, at the Philharmonic, or in a Broadway theater.

When Ms. Finley was asked what her most significant legacy was, it was not her 70 years in business, the millions of dollars she raised for charity, or the world-famous designers whose careers she helped launch – it was her family, which now includes four generations. Today she is survived by her three sonsJoseph Green and his wife Carol of Cambridge, Jim Green and his wife Bonnie of Brewer, Maine, and Larry Lein and his wife Jayne of Cresskill, New Jersey; nine grandchildren:Jeff Green, Ariana Green, Nick Green, Amanda Green, Rebekah Green, Nathaniel Green, Eliana Green, Daniel Lein, and Alex Lein; five great grandchildren Zachary, Ethan, Angelica, Jacob and Finn. Everyone looks to Ms. Finley as an irreplaceable influence and example of what can be accomplished with hard work, integrity, and dedication. Ms. Finley touched everyone she knew with her infectious smile and infinitely kind spirit; she brought a unique light into everyone’s life and inspired so many and will continue to do so for generations to come.

At the family’s request, private graveside services will be held in the Children of Israel Cemetery, Haverhill, MA. Arrangements are by the H.L. Farmer & Sons Funeral Homes, Bradford – Haverhill. Contributions in her memory may be made to the Ruth Finley Scholarship Fund at the HSFI Advisory Board, 225 West 24th St, New York, NY 10011, attn: Anika Carter.
To share a memory or for more information please visit www.farmerfuneralhomes.com


Events

Event Information

Services are private.

Cemetery Details

Location

Children of Israel Cemetery Final Resting Place

385 Middle Rd.
Haverhill, MA 01830

385 Middle Rd. Haverhill 01830 MA
United States

Memorial Contribution

Ruth Finley Scholarship Fund

HSFI Advisory Board,
225 West 24th St, attn: Anika Carter.
New York, Ny 10011
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