by Alan Patricof
My parents’ family came to this country to flee the pogroms initiated by the Russian Tsar -- somewhat like the story of Fiddler on The Roof. I actually have the ship’s manifest of the boat on which they came over, in steerage.
My father immigrated to the United States from Smila, Ukraine (then Russia) in 1907 at the age of 4. An uncle brought him together with his four sisters and one brother, arriving in Ellis Island before taking a train to Middletown, Ohio. They lived with his mother’s sister who had emigrated from Russia many years before. My mother came over separately in 1911 from Mogilev, Russia, also in steerage. She travelled directly to Waterbury, Connecticut, with her parents, two sisters and a brother.
My father was an orphan when he came over and lived with a total of 14 children, all brought up by his aunt who had two children of her own. I understand it was not that unusual in those times for relatives escaping the pogroms to come to America and move in with relatives who preceded them. Times were tough and people struggled to make ends meet. At some time in the 1920s my father moved to New York City to follow his brother who offered him a job at the the textile business he had set up.
My father met my mother in 1931 and they married in 1933. He joked that he always said he married my mother for her money- “She had $10 and he had $5”.
Before coming to New York, my father worked on a tramp steamer out of Catalina, California, on a canning line in Monterey, shoveled coal, swept sidewalks and delivered papers by bicycle which in those days were delivered before 4am.
Both of my parents went to college, but I never truly knew if they graduated. At least for my father I know Ohio State and Columbia were places he referred to often.
My mother’s father, my grandfather, was a watchmaker, who had a small shop that he ultimately moved to New York City. I can still see him now with the loop he used to look into watches, sitting on his small piano stool, revolving around to meet a customer who came in while he was working.
None of my father’s siblings did very much with their lives, but my father sought out a living through the Depression in the remnants business on Bond Street that at the time was one block from the Bowery and a hangout for derelicts and drunks on the sidewalk. Today this area is cluttered with luxury high-rise condos and top end restaurants - if he could see Bond Street today, he clearly would have no recognition. After WWII, he ultimately became a stockbroker, which was a much easier and more profitable way to make a living.
My mother’s younger brother studied law and became a New York State Supreme Court Judge, which was the crowning achievement of this immigrant family. Neither my father’s or mother’s other siblings ever did much with their lives. However, all of their children went on to successful professional lives in teaching, law, medicine and finance - my career being in the latter. The next generation, including my children, have built even more successful careers.
As I think of my own life, I think of the opportunity I had in the 1990s to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House. At the time, I couldn’t help reflecting that it was not that long a journey from my parents arriving in steerage in 1907 to 85 years later, my sleeping in the White House – only in America.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alan Patricof is the founder and managing director of Greycroft LLC. A longtime innovator and advocate for venture capital, Alan entered the industry in its formative days with the creation of Patricof & Co. Ventures Inc., a predecessor to Apax Partners – today, one of the world’s leading private equity firms with $41 billion under management. In 2006, he founded Greycroft Partners, a venture capital firm, to invest in leading early and expansion stage investments in digital media. He has helped build and foster the growth of numerous major global companies, including, among others, America Online, Office Depot, Cadence Systems, Cellular Communications, Inc., Apple Computer, FORE Systems, NTL, IntraLinks, and Audible. He was also a founder and chairman of the board of New York magazine, which later acquired the Village Voice and New West magazine. From 2007 to 2012, he served two terms on the board of Millennium Challenge Corporation, having been appointed by Presidents Bush and Obama respectively. From 1993 to 1995, he served as Chairman of the White House Conference on Small Business Commission in The Clinton Administration.