BROOKLYN, N.Y.–Esther (Erna) Jay, founder and matriarch of The Jay Companies, passed away May 15. She was 91.
Jay was born May 11, 1920, in Sanok, Poland. She escaped the invading Nazis in 1939 by fleeing east, but fell into the hands of the Russian Army. At the age of 19, Jay was forced to work in a Russian slave labor camp in Siberia until the conclusion of World War II. Esther and her husband Paul arrived in New York around 1950 and began to build what soon became a thriving family-based business importing and selling European tableware and giftware.
In the early days, the Jays would travel back and forth by boat to Europe for weeks, visiting factories and purchasing goods to import and sell back in the United States, the family said. “In an era when women were seldom seen outside the home, Mrs. Jay was pioneering the way for generations of women in the tabletop industry, and indeed helping to create this industry from scratch in the United States,” said Melissa Hinton, vice president of sales, Jay Companies.
Jay instilled the importance of family and passed that culture on through generations, Hinton said, and her goal and driving passion was to create a company that would be a place for the family to work together, grow together, and prosper together. Her son, Harry serves as president and CEO, while grandsons Michael, David, Kalman and Adrian make up the executive board.
Jay is survived by her son Harry, daughter Susan Solny, as well as many grandchildren and great grandchildren.