Alan I. Kay, 75

Alan I. Kay, Washington area real estate magnate and philanthropist, dies at 75

Alan I. Kay with his wife, Dianne, in front of their McLean mansion, Merrywood, in the mid-1980s.
Alan I. Kay with his wife, Dianne, in front of their McLean mansion, Merrywood, in the mid-1980s. (Harry Naltchayan/the Washington Post)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 19, 2010

Alan I. Kay, 75, a Washington-area real estate magnate and philanthropist who was a force behind one of the most extravagant and profitable cancer fundraising galas of the 1980s, died June 17 at Potomac Valley nursing home in Rockville. He had Alzheimer's disease.

In a career spanning five decades, Mr. Kay developed thousands of apartments and commercial projects. Among them were the office buildings and hotel complex above the Bethesda Metro and the Foxhall Crescents development of single-family homes in Northwest Washington that had once been part of Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller's estate.

From a modest background, the charismatic and fast-talking Mr. Kay grew up supporting his widowed mother and working his way through the University of Maryland. He amassed a fortune through real estate investment and development, showing a flair for dealmaking in acquisition and finance. He left the building side to his longtime business partner, Allan "Buddy" Rozansky.

Mr. Kay had ambitions to take the company beyond the Beltway and bought out Rozansky in 1986, at a time when Rozansky & Kay Construction reportedly had $500 million in contracts. Working alone, the newly named Alan I. Kay Co. built apartment complexes and office buildings from La Jolla, Calif., to Orlando to Lisbon.

When the Washington real estate market was at a golden peak in the 1980s, the high-rolling Mr. Kay and his wife Dianne paid $4.25 million for Merrywood, the Georgian-style mansion in McLean that was a childhood home of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

The Kays used the residence as a draw for their charitable causes. In 1990, Michael Jackson appeared at the home during a fundraising drive for the Capital Children's Museum, though the entertainer was visibly unimpressed with the real estate crowd and took greater delight in playing with Mr. Kay's 5-year-old granddaughter Lauren.

Mr. Kay was deeply involved in fundraising for the Washington Ballet and the Wolf Trap performing arts center in Vienna, but more than any other cause, he poured his determination into raising money for cancer research and education. By all accounts, he had been devastated in 1981 by his younger brother's death from cancer.

For much of the 1980s, the Kays served as co-chairmen of the annual American Cancer Society ball in Washington, and under their auspices the event helped raise more than $1 million annually.

The Kays were credited with transforming a comparatively low-key fundraising gala into one of the region's most anticipated social events of the year.

Consulting his Rolodex, Mr. Kay tapped into the vast wealth of the region's leading business entrepreneurs.

"All of us are besieged with requests from different causes," Mr. Kay told The Washington Post in 1986. "All the causes are good, but people drop most of them in the trash can. With someone you know calling -- it is far more difficult to say no. I do lots of business with these people -- not that I would stop doing business with them, but I'm sure they do it because they want to accommodate me."

His influence worked only to a point, Mr. Kay said, adding that to succeed with the ball over the long term, the event needed to be short on speeches and long on decadence: constant music, live lobsters crawling on beds of ice, flowing liquor and chatter with celebrities.

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