By Frederick Seitz


Richard Lounsbery was born in New York City in 1882 to affluent parents, Richard P. Lounsbery and Edith Hunter Haggin Lounsbery. The family's antecedents were generally of English origin, with most having come to America during colonial times. One exception was Richard's great-great-grandfather, Ibrahim Ben Ali, whose life was marked by tragedy. Born in Turkey in 1756, Ben Ali was trained as a doctor and became a captain in the Turkish army. He lost his entire family when mob violence erupted in Istanbul, and was later imprisoned by the Russians during a conflict between Russia and Turkey. Eventually freed thanks to the intervention of a British general in whose charge he had been placed, Ben Ali traveled extensively through Europe, became a Christian, and later migrated to the United States. He settled in Philadelphia, where he married an Englishwoman and set up practice as a physician. Sadly, Ben Ali contracted yellow fever while ministering to patients during an epidemic that struck Philadelphia and Baltimore, and he died in 1800. He was survived by his wife and infant daughter, Adeline Sally. The middle name, "Ben Ali" appears several times among his descendants.

The Lounsbery family's wealth was derived from the extensive business activities of James Ben Ali Haggin, grandson of Ibrahim Ben Ali and the grandfather of Richard Lounsbery. Born in Kentucky in 1822, Haggin opened a law office in Sacramento, California in 1850 to take advantage of opportunities provided by the Gold Rush. He and his partner were instrumental in forming several highly successful mining operations in the American West and later abroad. They helped to solidify the United States position in the copper industry and also played a role in developing California farmland and implementing legislation controlling the state's water rights. Through these initiatives, Haggin formed a close friendship with Senator George Hearst.

Haggin married Eliza Jane Sanders in 1852, and the couple had five children. Their daughter Edith married Richard P. Lounsbery in 1878. Richard P. Lounsbery was a descendant of a distinguished pre-Revolution family noted in the Harvard archives for the bequest of a scholarship in 1670. He assumed an active role in the Haggin family business, which moved its headquarters to New York City. Richard Lounsbery-creator of the Lounsbery Foundation-was the couple's only child. He was born in 1882.


Richard attended St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, and graduated from Harvard College in 1906. After college, Richard joined the family business, traveling extensively to gain familiarity with its widespread enterprises. He extended the business' activities into new areas such as importing silk from Japan. When his father died in 1912, Richard considered taking over the family firm. However, as a result of a bout of illness, he decided to change fields and joined the investment firm of J. B. Harris and Company, soon becoming a familiar figure in the New York banking community.

After serving in France as an Army lieutenant in World War I, Richard stayed in that country to study art. Thus began his love affair with France, which was to last all his life. He split his time between Paris and New York and became a prominent member of the business and social life of both cities. He was also an excellent amateur painter and enthusiastic golfer on both continents.

Richard married Vera Victoroff, a Russian refugee living in Paris, in 1928. During nearly forty happy years together, they shared many interests and continued to divide their time between Paris and New York.


After Richard's death in 1967, Vera Victoroff Lounsbery worked with the attorney Alan F. McHenry to develop a clear-cut set of goals for the Foundation. McHenry went on to serve as the first president of the Foundation, retaining that position until his death in 1993. His interest in American and French cultural and scientific affairs closely matched that of both Lounsberys, and he created programs and awards of which they would undoubtedly have approved. Over the years, the Board has continued to implement programs focused along the guidelines established by Vera and McHenry, while adapting to changing times and opportunities.

Other advisers to the Lounsberys included Benjamin F. Borden, Edward R. Finch, and Leon Schaefler. Borden served as secretary-treasurer until 1996. Schaefler, along with Alan McHenry, was trustee and advisor to the original trust fund created in Richard Lounsbery's will, which contained a major portion of the Foundation's endowment. His son-in-law, Richard H. Pershan, holds that position today.

In 1978, Vera established the Lounsbery Award in honor of her husband. This award is presented annually to a distinguished investigator in biology or medicine who has been selected by a jury of seven members representing the National Academy of Sciences of the United States and the Academie des Sciences of France.

© 2019 Richard Lounsbery Foundation