Devoted Basketball Team Fan, Donor Dies at 88

Raymond P. Lavietes ’36, a Harvard basketball star and the namesake of Harvard’s basketball pavilion, died of lung cancer Sunday in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 88.

Lavietes was an avid philanthropist, who both donated money to and volunteered at organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and the United Way.

His greatest philanthropic dedication, however, was to Harvard, especially the basketball program.

“He had this fierce devotion to Harvard,” said his wife, Estelle Lavietes. “He felt that it helped him develop himself as a human being to go to a university such as Harvard.”

The Ray Lavietes Basketball Pavilion was dedicated in 1996 after a $3 million gift by Lavietes funded a major renovation of the facility.

“He felt it was a shame that a world-class school like Harvard...isn’t a first-class or even a second-class [basketball] program,” said his son, Robert H. Lavietes ’71. “I like to think that the 10-5 record today has something to do with that facility.”

He supported the program more than just financially, hosting parties for Harvard teams at his Connecticut home when they were in town to play Yale and befriending players. At one time, Lavietes served as chair of Friends of Harvard Basketball.

“He was a phenomenal man, just as sharp as you can be,” said Harvard Women’s Basketball Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith.

“He was constantly asking me and [Harvard Men’s Basketball Coach Frank Sullivan] about the quality of life of the people in the basketball program...He did little things, like dropping off cookies and candies,” she added.

Shortly after the dedication of the pavilion in 1996, the basketball teams threw a surprise party for Lavietes.

“At the surprise party, the players came up to me and said how much they appreciated the new facilities and how the new complex makes them feel good about themselves and about Harvard basketball,” Lavietes told the Harvard Gazette at the time. "Their words meant a lot to me because, all along, prompting those sentiments was what we had hoped to accomplish.”

Lavietes grew up in New Haven, Conn. His family owned and operated a basket-making company in nearby Shelton.

By 1932, the year Lavietes entered Harvard, the family had fallen on hard times, and Lavietes often said that Harvard’s generosity in providing him with financial aid was a major reason he became a University donor.

During his sophomore year, Lavietes walked onto the junior varsity basketball team, and played for the varsity team his junior and senior years.

After graduation, Lavietes worked at the family basket factory in Shelton, where he lived for most of his life. He eventually inherited the factory and, over the years, converted it into a toolkit factory and then into a wet/dry vacuum factory.

Beyond the realm of basketball, Lavietes donated another $3 million to establish a scholarship fund at Harvard.

In 1994, the Harvard Alumni Association awarded him the Harvard Medal for his “far-reaching, imaginative and enthusiastic” service.

He was a member of numerous alumni committees, and served two terms as the Alumni Association’s regional vice president.

He also served as president and board member of the Harvard Club of Southern Connecticut.

Beyond Harvard, Lavietes was the director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley, to which he donated his former factory site as a headquarters.

“Kids need someone to pay attention to them, to teach them about good sportsmanship, compassion and tolerance,” Lavietes told the Gazette in 1996.

“Through the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club and Junior Achievement, we offer not only fun and games, but a structured, supportive learning environment,” he added.

A memorial service for Lavietes will be scheduled at the Boys and Girls Club in Shelton, and his wife said she plans also to hold a ceremony in his honor in Memorial Church.

In addition to his wife and son, Lavietes is survived by two stepsons, Steve and Mark Fogel, as well as four grandchildren.

—Jaquelyn M. Scharnick contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Nathaniel A. Smith can be reached at nsmith@fas.harvard.edu.