Maurice Tempelsman (born August 26, 1929) is a Belgian-American businessman and diamond merchant. He was the longtime companion of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, former First Lady of the United States.
Tempelsman was born on August 26, 1929 in Antwerp, Belgium, the son of Leon and Helene Tempelsman, both Orthodox Jews, in a Yiddish-speaking family in Antwerp’s Jewish community. In 1940 Tempelsman and his family emigrated to the United States to escape persecution by Nazi Germany during World War II. When he was 16, Tempelsman began working for his father, a diamond broker. He attended New York City’s public schools and New York University.
Tempelsman has three grown children by his wife Lilly Bucholz, a woman who had fled Antwerp with her family too. His daughter, Rena, is the widow of Robert Speisman, an executive vice president of Lazare Kaplan International Inc. who was on board American Airlines Flight 77, when the aircraft crashed into The Pentagon during the September 11 attacks.
In 1950 he created a new marketing niche by persuading the US-government to stockpile African diamonds for industrial and military purposes, with him as middleman, and in 1957, at the age of 27, he and his lawyer, Adlai Stevenson, traveled to Africa, where Tempelsman had begun forging ties with leaders. His contacts eventually ranged from South African revolutionary Oliver Tambo to Zaire's kleptocratic dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko and the influential Oppenheimer diamond family. Tempelsman is chairman of the board of directors of Lazare Kaplan International Inc. (LKI), the largest diamond company in the United States, noted for its "ideal cut" diamonds sold worldwide under the brand name, Lazare Diamonds.Tempelsman is one of less than 90 ″sightholders″ in the world, which means that 10 times a year he is permitted to buy diamonds directly from the powerful De Beers cartel in the City of London, because DeBeers is a virtual monopoly, it cannot operate legally in the United States.
Relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Tempelsman was the longtime companion of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The two began their lengthy relationship in 1980, several years after the death of Jacqueline Kennedy’s second husband Aristotle Onassis. In 1982, Tempelsman moved into Onassis’s Fifth Avenue penthouse apartment in New York City. During their relationship, Tempelsman handled Onassis’s finances, quadrupling the $26 million secured from her late husband’s estate. The couple frequently took walks through Central Park and were photographed doing so in the days preceding her death on May 19, 1994, at age 64 from Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. At Onassis’s funeral service, Tempelsman read Constantine P. Cavafy’s poem Ithaca, one of her favorites, and concluded by saying: "And now the journey is over, too short, alas, too short. It was filled with adventure and wisdom, laughter and love, gallantry and grace. So farewell, farewell." Tempelsman was one of two executors of her will. She left him a "Greek alabaster head of a woman" and named Templesman as co‑chair of her charitable organization, the C & J Foundation.
Philanthropic and political activities
Tempelsman maintains relations with political and business leaders, in particular government leaders in Africa and Russia, and leading figures in the U.S. Democratic Party. His extensive political contacts and monetary contributions often provide him with access and prestige in those markets, as was the case during the presidency of Bill Clinton. From 1993 to 1997, Tempelsman visited the White House at least ten times, met privately with Hillary Clinton on two separate occasions, vacationed with the Clintons and the Kennedy family in Martha's Vineyard, and flew to Moscow and back with President Clinton on Air Force One.
In Southern Africa, Tempelsman has played a key role in negotiations between hostile governments and companies engaging in diamond exploration. From March 3, 1977, Tempelsman briefly held the title of honorary consul general for Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), at the DRC’s consular offices in New York City. In addition to the DRC, Tempelsman has played a key role in the diamond industries of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and Sierra Leone.
Tempelsman served as chairman of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) from 1999 to 2002 and again from 2007 to 2008, after which he was named chairman emeritus. An example of his work with the CCA involved assisting government leaders with establishing the New Partnership for Africa's Development. Tempelsman was a board member of the Southern African Enterprise Development Fund, and past chairman and long-serving board member of The Africa-America Institute.
Tempelsman is a trustee of the Eurasia Foundation, and a director of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Center for National Policy, the Business Council for International Understanding, and the U.S.-Russia Business Council.
He is chairman of the International Advisory Council of the Harvard School of Public Health’s AIDS Initiative, and is an honorary trustee and an honorary member of the corporation of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Tempelsman is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and was named a visitor to the Department of Classical Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A director of the Academy of American Poets, Tempelsman also serves as a trustee of the New York University Institute of Fine Arts, and on Lenox Hill Hospital’s Advisory Board. He has served on several Presidential Commissions including the President’s Commission for the Observance of Human Rights, the Citizen’s Advisory Board of Youth Opportunities and the National Highway Safety Advisory Committee, and was appointed to the New York Council on International Business.
- List of Belgian Americans
- List of New York University alumni
- List of people from Antwerp
- List of people from New York City
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