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Jesse Shereff, 1940-2020
Jesse Shereff, one of the most prominent and influential members of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of New York, died suddenly on January 2, 2020 at the age of 79. A Society member since 1966, Jess served as President from 1975 to 1978, was Editor of THE PALACE PEEPER for several years in the 1980s and, most recently, held the title of Celestial Drudge, charged with a variety of helpful tasks, including taking photos for the PEEPER and supervising the mailing of the printed PEEPER to members who choose that method of delivery.
When Jess came to the Society in his 20s, many of our original members from the 1930s were still active and were impressed by the young man's enthusiasm and drive. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company had been visiting New York frequently and for long periods of time, forming long friendships with Society members. Jess made friends with them, too, and remained in touch with many of them long after their D'Oyly Carte days had ended. Jess soon became a Society officer and offered many valuable suggestions on how to keep our organization welcoming and attractive to new generations of G&S fans. It wasn't enough for us to "come in, sit down, get sung at and leave," at meetings, so he instituted our practices of having intermissions with refreshments and wearing name tags as a way of saying hello. Socializing outside of meetings was also a priority, and he often hosted small group sessions at his home, so members could explore the world of G&S in more detail and get to know each other better. Our retiring to local diners after each meetings as a group was another innovation inspired by Jess's encouraging us to be sociable, and he was a master of sociability, usually more aware than the rest of us of our all of our members' names, occupations, families and interests.
Jess wanted very much to make better use of THE PALACE PEEPER to keep our members aware and informed about the G&S world. During his Presidency, photographs began appearing in these pages, and some month's issues featured as many as ten pages, filled with news of performances, books and recordings, profiles of prominent Society members, question-and-answer columns and essays on G&S operas and G&S performers. In the pre- internet days of the 1980s and 1990s, receiving the PEEPER ten times a year provided the most comprehensive view of Savoy Opera facts and opinions that anyone could ask for.
Jess was an avid collector of G&S books, posters, recordings, advertising materials and other memorabilia. He met regularly with other collectors to share information and discoveries. In recent years, most of those possessions, filling nearly 200 boxes, was donated to the Ohio State University Libraries to remain available to interested members of the public.
Jess was also a huge fan of jazz, opera, musical theater, watching basketball and hockey games, and hanging out and corresponding with friends on both sides of the Atlantic. He is survived by his wife Rochelle (shown with him in the photo) and was predeceased by his father, his sister and his mother, who died just three years ago at 106. In my early years in the Society, 40-plus years ago, he was like the big brother I have never had, recognizing my interests and helping me prepare for leadership. So much of what the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of New York is and does, comes from Jesse Shereff's caring for our organization and its people. We are blessed to have had him with us for such a long time.
— Dan Kravetz, January 2020