Known internationally as a key industrialist, Mr. Leir was very successful in the metals and mining industry in Luxembourg.
He then expanded his business to 26 countries, with 36 offices in Luxembourg City, Düsseldorf, Mexico City, New York City, London, Paris, and Tokyo, to name a few locations.
Born on Jan. 28, 1900, in Beuthen, Germany, Mr. Leir lost his father at the age of 11 and assumed the role of pater familias for his mother and siblings. In 1929, Mr. Leir married Erna Dora Schloss of Mannheim, Germany, who was two years his junior. Four years later, in 1933, the Leirs read the signs correctly and left Germany for Luxembourg. In 1938, they were again forced to flee, this time, leaving Luxembourg for the United States, where they would be naturalized as citizens.
Throughout his life, Mr. Leir displayed a love of languages, literature, and the arts in part for their ability to edify. In 1937, he wrote a novel under the pseudonym of Tom Palmer, La Grande Compagnie de Colonisation, which, in those troubling times, presented a vision of a world that could achieve peace through the efforts of enlightened industrialists.
Over the years, Mrs. Leir was Mr. Leir’s constant companion and adviser and was known to be a very modest individual, who possessed profound common sense, great spontaneity, and boundless energy. Together, the Leirs devoted their time and efforts to philanthropy, in order to enhance world prosperity and individual accomplishment.
Throughout their lifetime, the Leirs’ immense successes were honored internationally. Indeed, for their efforts, both Henry J. and Erna D. Leir were named Knights of the French Legion of Honor. In addition, Mr. Leir was offered honorary doctorates from several universities, as well as Luxembourg’s Order of Merit, the highest honor awarded a civilian in the Grand Duchy.
The Leirs’ richly complex, humanist, intelligent, and pragmatic approach to life provided fertile ground for their varied and extensive philanthropic activities as well. Over time, the Leirs established a number of organizations eventually becoming known as The Leir Foundation, committed to the global humanitarian ideals and interests of Henry J. and Erna D. Leir. Thus, its work supports the advance of high quality educational and cultural institutions, medical research and care, services for children and the disadvantaged, and programs that enhance multi-cultural understanding and diversity.
Remaining active all their lives, Mrs. Leir died in Connecticut in January 1996, and Mr. Leir died in Manhattan in July 1998.
The Leir Luxembourg Program-Clark University continues to flourish through provisions made by the Leirs. It is to commemorate multifaceted and extraordinary Henry J. and Erna D. Leir, that their foundation, The Leir Foundation, continues their philanthropic work under the leadership of the President Margot Gibis. It is in their philanthropic spirit of leaving the world in a better state than how it was found that we hope to contribute to Mr. and Mrs. Leir’s memory.