Bella Wexner Dies in New York

Retail veteran, philanthropist and mother of Limited founder was 93
Posted November 7, 2001

Bella Cabakoff Wexner, a noted philanthropist, 70-year retailing veteran and mother of The Limited founder and chairman, Leslie Wexner, died in New York on Sunday after a long illness. She was 93.

One of her son's chief business advisers, she was an emeritus board member of The Limited at the time of her death.

No newcomer to retailing, Wexner was named the youngest buyer at the former F&R Lazarus when she was 21. After more than 20 years at Lazarus, she and her husband, Harry L., opened a women's clothing store in Columbus, Ohio, in 1951. The store was named Leslie's, after their son, and became his training ground. The Wexners closed their store in 1964 to join their son after he opened his first Limited store, at Kingsdale Shopping Center in Upper Arlington, Ohio, in 1963.

Wexner served on The Limited board since its inception in 1963, when her husband and son were the only other members. She was secretary, and her husband was chairman until his death in 1975. She remained on the board for 34 years.

Her charitable contributions came on the local, national and international levels, targeted toward humanitarian and health causes, and were in the range of millions of dollars. In 1985, she donated $3 million to build the Wexner Center for Pediatric Research, which opened several years later. The gift was in memory of her sister, Ida Cabakoff, who had been treated at the Columbus, Ohio, hospital in the early 1920s.

In 1989, Wexner and her son were the first to make a $1 million personal donation to the United Way of Central Ohio. Their names are inscribed in marble in the lobby of the United Way of America headquarters in Alexandria, Va.

Her concern for the rights of the elderly culminated in 1990 in a campaign that raised $20 million to renovate and expand a Columbus seniors community that is now called Wexner Heritage Village. In 1999, she and her daughter, Susan Wexner of New York, donated money to renovate Israel's first dental school building into the Wexner Building for Dental Medicine and the Dr. Izador I. Cabakoff Center for Advanced and Continuing Education in Dentistry in Jerusalem. (The center was named after Mrs. Wexner's brother, who had been a dentist in Columbus.)

In 1984, she raised $11.5 million as Columbus chairwoman of Bonds for Israel. And in 1991, son Leslie gave $5 million in his mother's honor to a learning center at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. "The (museum) will teach the next generation the tragic lessons that my generation learned the hard way,''she said at the time.

She also made significant contributions to the Columbus Jewish Foundation and the Columbus Museum of Art, and served on boards for such Columbus institutions as the Heritage House, Leo Yassenoff Jewish Center, OperaColumbus, Columbus Symphony, ProMusica and BalletMet.