Miami philanthropist and arts patron Judy Weiser dies at 89
Judy Weiser, a Miami arts patron who supported and organized the city’s most prominent arts institutions, died Friday morning following surgery. She was 89 years old.
Family, friends and colleagues remember Judy Weiser as a quiet but energetic woman who helped shape Miami’s cultural landscape into the thriving ecosystem it is today. Judy and her late husband, Sherwood “Woody” Weiser, a hotel developer and civic leader, are recognized as key players in establishing and championing the city’s performing arts center.
She has served on the board of and contributed to several Miami organizations including but not limited to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Pérez Art Museum Miami, New World Symphony, Coconut Grove Playhouse , the Miami Children’s Hospital. and the Miami City Ballet.
“If you’re thinking who really made a difference in Miami becoming a great place for arts and culture, Judy Weiser should come to mind. She was kind and gracious, mixing that with a personality intense enough to make the difference,” said David Lawrence Jr., retired Miami Herald publisher and president of the Children’s Movement of Florida.
Judy’s family was with her when she passed away, her son Brad Weiser said. She is survived by her three adult children, Doug, Warren and Brad; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her husband died of cancer in 2011.
Judy was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1933. She graduated from Ohio State University and married her husband, who worked as a real estate attorney. The couple and their children moved to Miami in the late 1960s. Sherwood ditched his law firm, bought a hotel in Miami Beach, and grew the company into the nation’s third-largest independent hotel management company. , said their son.
Brad Weiser said he remembers her as a painter, a loving mother and an active member of the Jewish community. As dedicated as she was to promoting the arts in Miami, “family was absolutely the most important thing to her,” he said.
“They were so passionate about Miami and said it was an amazing city, but it really needed to have world-class cultural arts,” he said. “They never stopped working on that in the community.”
Adrienne Arsht witnessed Judy’s passion for the arts in Miami. The two met in the 80s through mutual friends Ted and Lin Arison, the philanthropists who founded YoungArts and funded the New World Symphony.
“I got to know them when a performing arts center was a dream, but they both worked very, very diligently on it,” recalls Arsht, who served on the board.
An evening at dinner stands out, Arsht said. Some local officials had just told the board that the performing arts center should downsize to just one building, not two, to cut costs. Judy didn’t have it.
“I remember sitting in the restaurant and Judy just said, ‘That’s not going to happen. There must be two buildings. The to have to be two buildings,” Arsht said. “I think if it wasn’t for her, well, there could be a building and a tent.”
In the fall of 2007, Arsht said, the performing arts center was “on the verge of bankruptcy,” so she called Woody and Judy to ask what she could do to help. That’s when they brokered the $30 million donation that turned a struggling Carnival Center into the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
“It was only because of Woody and Judy that I did what I did,” Arsht said. “And it’s only because of Judy and Woody that we even have a performing arts center, which is now the core and heart of the county.”
Gerald Katcher, a longtime banker and civic contributor, said Judy and Woody worked closely to develop every detail of the Arsht Center, right down to the interior fabrics.
“They were both a terrific team for our county,” Katcher said.
Both Katcher and Judy were heavily involved in the New World Symphony and collaborated on galas together. He did the fundraising and Judy produced the galas so they were fun and never boring, he said. Although arranging food, speeches, music, invitations, seating, and decorating was a stressful workload, Judy handled it all with composure, class, and her “sweet Midwestern charm,” did he declare.
When Arsht thinks of his longtime friend Judy, one word comes to mind: “Elegant, elegant, elegant,” Arsht said.
Howard Herring, the president of the New World Symphony, similarly described Judy. As a longtime administrator, she was one of the first people he met when he joined the symphony orchestra in 2001. Not only did she understand the need to build the Center du Nouveau Monde, but she also understood the importance of sharing culture without barriers, Herring said.
Judy knew Miami before there was an Arsht Center, a New World Center and a PAMM. Today, Miamians live in his vision, Herring said.
“Her voice was a lead voice in bringing the community to a new understanding of themselves,” Herring said. “To be the community we wanted to be, we had to think beyond that.”
While many of her colleagues remember Judy as a visionary, Aaron Podhurst remembers her as a friend of 50 years. They were neighbors.
Podhurst first met the Weisers when he worked as an attorney for Woody’s company. He hailed Judy as a loving mother, devoted wife and amazing person to spend time with. He remembers the good times: attending tennis tournaments in Key Biscayne when Woody owned the Sheridan near the airport.
“She was loved by many people, known by many people,” Podhurst said. “Judy has had a great impact on Miami-Dade County and its development after all these years.”
This story was produced with the financial support of the Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism grant program. The Miami Herald retains full editorial control of this work.