Featured Alumnus: Stephen Lash '58
When Your Passions Lead The Way
Originally from Brookline, Massachusetts, Stephen Lash ’58 early on developed an interest in the world of art. The son of modest art collectors, he has happy childhood memories of visiting historic monuments, museums, art galleries and even auctions. Art led Stephen to begin thinking that there was a larger world beyond Boston waiting to be discovered.
“I had the thought of attending a boarding school as my first foray into an outside world, and I interviewed at Andover, where I was encouraged to reapply the following year,” he says, “I never did. Instead, I enrolled in a local day school. Two years later, a man from Avon Old Farms School, Bernard Hammons, visited my school to talk about Avon.”
Stephen was intrigued enough after that meeting to visit Avon. He remembers the scale of Theodate Pope Riddle’s architecture making a deep and immediate impression.
“I decided to give it a try,” he says. “I had a good life. I was very blessed. But I wanted something more than what my life in suburbia could afford.”
At Avon, Stephen became involved in many aspects of campus life. While not a natural athlete, he played tennis, soccer, and was on the swim team. He joined several campus organizations including: the Gold Key Society, the Glee Club, the Dining Room Committee, the History Club, and the Library Committee. He was a lawyer and judge in the Village Court, associate editor of the Winged Beaver yearbook, and worked on the Avonian student newspaper. At the end of his first year at Avon, he received the Harvard Book Prize.
He recalls being drawn to key mentors who helped him find himself along the way—people like history teacher Richard Davis, an outstanding teacher and historian, who made it clear that learning could be fun and not drudgery. He later became head of Miss Porter’s School, a true educator.
“When it came time to write a history paper didn’t want to write my American history paper on the founding fathers. I asked Mr. Davis, ‘Can I write my paper on the history of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus?’ He said ‘sure,’ and through that effort a world opened for me which encouraged original thought, research, and even humor.”
At Avon, Stephen took a liking to French—something he had struggled with at his previous school. Following one summer course, he found himself ahead of the curve. As the result of a small French III class at Avon, he found himself becoming proficient in the language.
That love for French carried through to Yale, where Stephen earned his undergraduate degree. Immediately following Yale, Stephen joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves where he served for six months. Thereafter, he enrolled in Colombia University’s School of Business where he earned his MBA.
Then, a friendship with a fellow Columbia student led Stephen to the London merchant bank of S.G. Warburg.
“Warburg’s was an unlikely destination, as I hadn’t set my sights on banking, but it turned out to be an inspired move which involved working with a group of extraordinary original people. For me, success often goes back to the importance of relationships and surrounding yourself with supportive people who encouraged the pursuit of passions and excellence. At Warburg’s, one particular mentor, the late Geoffrey Seligman of that distinguished banking family, did just that.”
Stephen remained at Warburg’s for a decade before this mentor said to him, ‘You don’t seem very happy. How can we help you get where you want to be?’ It was then that Stephen shared with his trusted friend his thoughts about the legendary London auction house Christie’s opening in New York. Until that time, Parke Bernet, soon to become Sotheby’s Parke Bernet, was the only choice.
“I explained that Christie’s should open in New York,” Stephen shares. “He then introduced me to the chairman of Christie’s and I was able to explain my idea directly to him. He hired me.”
In 1976, Stephen’s first responsibility at Christie’s was to find space in New York where they could hold auctions. Over the years, his responsibilities grew, eventually becoming chairman and now chairman emeritus. During his tenure, Stephen has been involved with virtually every major historic and record-setting auction at Christie's, including the sale of Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet for $82.5 million in 1990, for decades the most expensive object ever sold at auction, and The Doris Duke Collection, sold to benefit The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in 2004. Stephen’s relationship with Elizabeth Taylor led Christie’s conducting of the auction of her collection in New York in December 2012, one of the most anticipated sales in international auction history, which fetched $156,756,576.
While referencing a quote he's saved from Oliver wendell Holmes, Jr., Stephen spoke to how much following your passions in life and surrounding yourself with the right people is key.
"When you’re making life decisions, follow your passions as long as they are responsible,” he says with a wink. “If your passion is in aerospace, follow it. Even if there’s no obvious career path you see in front of you right now, it will come. And second, build your life around relationships. People are all important … far more important than the deals. Think about the people with whom you want to work. The people you want to work should feel like friends who are loyal, honest, and intelligent. Not only in the good times, but in the bad times as well.”
This spring, Stephen will extend his support to others looking to explore the world of art through Avon Old Farms School's Virtual Networking Series for alumni, juniors, and seniors. On May 6, he will join a special and accomplished docket of alumni and parents who lead in their respective areas to share advice, discuss industry trends, and guide fellow Avonians in their own pursuit of their passions.
“Success isn't all about who you know, but everyone agrees that having an extensive network of contacts can be an asset,” comments Associate Director of Advancement, Development Robin Delnicki. “Through our networking series we invite alumni and current upperclassmen to attend special evenings of learning and networking on Zoom. The event for which Mr. Lash will serve as a panelist will provide our alumni an opportunity to learn from their brothers working in the art world, expand their contacts, join Avon’s professional network, and establish professional connections within the Avon family.”
To learn more about the Virtual Networking Series, please visit the alumni section of our website.