It’s a beautiful day at the beginning of a long holiday weekend in July, and Stewart Rahr is sporting his signature yellow glasses. He calls them his “Rah Rah Ray-Bans.” They are his trademark, and he is known for convincing other bigwigs to don the shades for photo ops, including President Bill Clinton, who wore a pair during a golf outing with the pharmaceutical magnate in early July, when the duo played a round with Arnold Palmer and Donald Trump. They make for the perfect accessory for Haute Living’s cover photo shoot; the Rah-Rah Ray-Bans are bright, in your face, and help define the man behind them, who declares that he lives a type of “Rah-Rah” lifestyle. This unique brand of attitude and panache is one others aspire to. Rahr is the self-declared King of All Fun, and the shades serve as his crown.
Rahr is one of the wealthiest men on the planet, and he certainly doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. He earned his money the hard way, from long, grueling days of intense, non-stop work (combined with an inherent business sense), and he uses his fortune not only to fund his good life, but to make the dreams of others come true as well.
The cover shoot is taking place at Rahr’s Wainscott, East Hampton, home, which was featured in glossies and newspapers across the nation when Rahr purchased it in 2005. At the time, it was the most expensive real estate transaction in New York State’s history, with a closing price of $45 million. Rahr paid cash. The 25-acre property sits on Georgica Pond, known to be one of the most exclusive enclaves in an utterly exclusive town, and his neighbors include the likes of Steven Spielberg and Ron Perelman. What’s more, Rahr wasn’t even in the market for a property when he came across Burnt Point, but all it took was one look for him to make an offer on the estate. “I wasn’t looking to buy the home,” Rahr explains, “but my friend Howard Lorber [from Prudential Douglas Elliman] had the exclusive on the property. He had been telling me about it for six months, but I never wanted to look at it; I had a home five miles away in Sagaponack.” Upon seeing the 18,000-square-foot home and the sprawling grounds, which include a private, 2,000-foot beach with dock and boathouse, tennis court, and greenhouse, Rahr was smitten. He famously purchased the property, furnishings and all, and it became his family’s sanctuary on weekends from May through early September.
Burnt Point is a place he goes to relax, to unwind from the rigors of his everyday life. “On the pond, it’s peaceful,” he quips. “It’s everything I need, because I am always multitasking, doing so many different things at the same time. When I wake up here in the morning, and just have breakfast on the terrace and see the swans and the other beautiful birds, it stimulates me in a calming way. It’s good for me.”
It’s a needed sanctuary considering that the rest of his life is known for being a whirlwind of social and business obligations that often lands him on the society pages. He runs with quite the crew, hitting the links with the likes of Donald Trump, Justin Timberlake, Phil Mickelson, and George Lopez, and cruising the society circuit with his wife Carol. His brash personality and biting wit are as much of a trademark as the yellow Ray-Bans, and there is no room for doubt this over-the-top character is a direct result of his Queens roots.
Rahr’s childhood in the outer borough was solidly comfortable; his father Joseph ran a small company in Brooklyn called Kinray Pharmacy, but the younger Rahr had little intention of going into the family business. It wasn’t until he was in law school at NYU that he was called to action; Joseph was losing his partner in Kinray Pharmacy and was forced to consider closing the business because of behemoth competitors and brutal market conditions. At the time, the company had only five employees and did less than a million a year in sales. It was the Stewart to the rescue; he grew up watching his father navigate the industry and knew what was needed to make the company thrive: hard work and a winning personality. “People tell me I was a good salesman,” he recalls, a trait that is still apparent. He hit the streets, and Kinray evolved from a local pharmacy into a drug wholesaler, as Rahr bet big on the increase in the price of pharmaceuticals. It was a wager that paid off. In the subsequent decades, he worked tirelessly for 20 hours a day, seven days a week, growing Kinray into the world’s largest privately held distributor of pharmaceutical, generic, health and beauty, and home healthcare products, with an annual revenue around $5 billion. His father has since passed, and Rahr is the company’s sole owner.
This allowed him to amass a personal fortune around $2 billion with a ranking as No. 227 on the Forbes 400 in 2009. It’s an impressive number that has afforded him the lifestyle that others can only dream of, and one he certainly takes advantage of. In addition to Burnt Point in the Hamptons and his two apartments in NYC, Rahr’s holdings include a space on the 30th floor of Trump Park Avenue and an impressive art collection made up of masters like Renoir and Picasso. But while these worldly possessions may be the hard-earned result of his business acumen, he cites Winston Churchill for his ultimate inspiration: “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”
Rahr is one of our country’s most active philanthropists, serving as a benefactor for the Robin Hood Foundation, The Columbia University Medical Center, The Shriners Childrens Hospital, The NYU Medical Center, The Parkinson’s Foundation, The Israeli Defense Force, The Alzheimer’s Association, The Christopher Reeves Coalition, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, The Breast Cancer Society, The Skin Cancer Foundation, The Rainforest Foundation, P.A.L. (he donated $1 million just last month), and countless others. “Life is dependent upon how you feel and how you interact,” he explains. “Giving back is important to me, because there are no luggage racks on top of a hearse.”
But the cause closest to his heart is the Make-A-Wish foundation, and he has granted one wish per month for the past six years, with no end in site. His generosity has earned him a top spot as Make-A-Wish’s largest donor in history (he donated $1 million in 2007 alone), and he sits on the board of the foundation. “I love helping the children get away from their everyday torments and troubles, and helping the family, by giving them something to look forward to, making their dreams come true. It takes away from their pain. They think about the experience of, say, going to Disney World, or going to Europe, or seeing their favorite singer, and it stops their spinning world from spinning for a long time, and I think that is very rewarding.”
With his latest venture, even more people will have the opportunity to benefit from Rahr’s giving, feel-good nature. His name will be rolling on the silver screen in the credits of the upcoming Shannon’s Rainbow as “executive producer.” The film stars Darryl Hannah, Lou Gossett Jr., Charles Durning, Eric Roberts, and Claire Forlani—some big names for his first feature film (he says there will be more in the future). He plans to premiere the flick at the Hamptons Film Festival in October, hosting the after party at Burnt Point. “It’s a terrific family story about a horse and the attachment between mother and daughter,” he explains. “It’s a nice Disney, feel-good movie. That appeals to me. I like to feel good.”
It’s a touching change from some others in a high net worth bracket who may not be known for their generosity. Rahr is building an endearing legacy, one that is no doubt matched by that of his Rah-Rah personality. The “King of All Fun” empire is also branching out into the music business and hospitality and restaurant industries, and he is a partner in Southern Hospitality, which was cofounded by Justin Timberlake, so that even more people can experience his signature brand of style. Stewart Rahr has earned the right and the means to live his life to the absolute fullest, and people are taking note the world over. It won’t be long now before the term “Rah-Rah” becomes synonymous with “The Good Life.”