John Jay Iselin CBE Former Chairman of the New York Selection Committee
Jay Iselin, first right back row, with the 1956 Marshall Class
Dr. John Jay Iselin CBE, a 1956 Marshall Scholar and former chairman of the New York Marshall Committee, has passed away aged 74 after a prolonged and courageous battle against a series of health problems. Ever the gentleman, Jay met each new medical challenge with courage, grace and strength.
Born in 1933 in Greenville, South Carolina, Jay was educated at Harvard College, Cambridge, as a Marshall Scholar, and Harvard University where he earned a Ph.D in government in 1964.
Jay had a distinguished career in journalism, publishing, public television and higher education. After a Fellowship at the Brookings Institute in Washington, he went to work at Newsweek covering the Justice Department, and in 1965 was asked to come to New York City as National Affairs Editor. In 1970, Jay moved to Harper and Row as editor of the trade book division, where amongst many other works of fiction and non-fiction, he published Kenneth Clark's "Civilization," the first book to be published in the US in conjunction with a television series. In 1972, Jay became general manager and then President of WNET/Channel 13, which under his guidance became America's largest public television station.
At WNET, Jay's Marshall experience flowered . During his three years at Corpus Christi, Cambridge Jay had developed a deep knowledge of Britain and British society and maintained the relationships he established there. So when the BBC began to develop its serious cultural programming in the late 1960s, Jay saw the potential of television as a literary and learning medium in science, news and the fine arts. During his long and distinguished leadership of WNET Thirteen, Jay drew upon his experience as an outstanding journalist and educator to draw together the best parts of the British and American heritage to create some of American public television's most important and enduring programs : the path-breaking documentary series, "Nature." "The MacNeill-Lehrer Newshour (the most respected nightly news program in the US), "Great Performances," "Live from Lincoln Center" and "The Shakespeare Plays." Jay created Anglo-American literary television by building and supervising the co-production agreements with the BBC and Granada that led to such classic series as "The Brain," "Brideshead Revisited," and "The Jewel in the Crown" to mention but a few. Thanks to Jay's visionary and pioneering work, British television productions found vast new audiences in the United States. It is no exaggeration to say that Jay laid the foundations for the enormous British television presence in the United States today. In doing so, he made a unique contribution to Anglo-American cultural relations. It was for this along with his 20 years of service on the board of the American Friends of Cambridge University that Jay was recognized with a richly deserved CBE in 2004.
In 1988, Jay was appointed President of The Cooper Union in New York. There he led a successful $50 million capital campaign, built new laboratories and studios, strengthened its engineering curriculum, re-engineered Cooper Union's School of Art, strengthened the humanities faculty and created new endowed professorships in art, architecture and engineering.
After a highly successful twelve years at Cooper Union, Jay became President of the Marconi Foundation at Columbia University which nurtures and recognizes outstanding individuals from all over the world who have used communications technology for the benefit of mankind.
In 2001, Jay became the founding Chairman of the New York Marshall Committee. In that role, he was a steadfast beacon of civility, graciousness, fairness and wisdom. As a Marshall selector, Jay was without peer. His acute insight always enabled him to distinguish the truly exceptional from the merely great. In his work on the Marshalls, as in every other endeavor, Jay embodied so many of the finest qualities of his illustrious forbear, John Jay, the Founding Father who negotiated the treaty that gave America its independence and later became the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. Like John Jay, our Jay will always be remembered for his civility, elegant manners, exceptional intellectual depth, breadth and subtlety, impeccable judgment, unquestionable integrity, great wisdom and capacity for life-long friendship. Jay also commanded extraordinary affection, respect and devotion because of his extraordinary integrity, selflessness and generosity of spirit. Every member of the New York Marshall Committee will take with us his gifts of kindness and friendship he so selflessly gave to us. Our lives have been immeasurably enriched by the privilege of knowing him. We shall miss him terribly.
We extend our heartfelt condolences to his widow, Lea, to his brothers Duane and William, to his sisters Judy and Lee and his five children : William, Benjamin, Josie, Fannie and Alison.
Dr. Ray Raymond MBE, OCSM, FRSA
New York Marshall Chair