The August birthday party for 3-year-old twins Jack and Lucy Silverman was exactly the kind of event friends had come to expect from financier Jeffrey Silverman and his wife, Lisa, a onetime Olympic equestrienne. Power parents schmoozed as their toddlers frolicked on the vast lawn of the Bridgehampton compound owned by Lisa's parents, Bear Stearns vice-chairman Mickey Tarnopol and his wife, Lynne, who had recently divided off six large parcels of land for their children to build adjoining houses. On this particular day, they'd brought in pony rides and a petting zoo.
The Silvermans' social whirl had been like that all through the summer months: afternoons at the polo matches, a table at the Hampton Classic, dinner with friends. Back in Manhattan after Labor Day, they could generally be found at their regular tables at Sette Mezzo or Mr. Chow or their favorite, La Goulue, where they'd always order two bottles of Corton-Charlemagne, which they drank on the rocks, and though they lived just a block away, they kept a driver outside throughout dinner. On Saturday, September 21, they attended a bat mitzvah for the daughter of financier Peter Rothschild, laughing and mingling with friends and making social dates. "He was so involved in conversations that night," recalls Rothschild, "and I made lunch plans with him for the following week.''
Just two days later, however, when Lisa thought Jeffrey was having a regular Monday at work, he left a chilling message on her cell phone: "I love you very much, I love the children very much." But he couldn't go on with his life, he continued, instructing her where to send the police to recover his body: at the end of Steamboat Road on Long Island Sound, which is near the Greenwich estate they'd recently sold. By the time the police arrived, Silverman was dead, and though an investigation is ongoing, there seems to be little question that he'd taken his own life. Almost as shocking as the suicide, however, was the cause of death: a single gunshot wound to the chest, an unusual method of suicide that could result in the victim's bleeding for as long as ten minutes before losing consciousness.
Nearly a thousand people gathered for the funeral that Wednesday at Central Synagogue, many of them later visiting Lisa at the Silvermans' magnificent East 64th Street home. Among those shaking their heads in disbelief were former mayor Rudy Giuliani, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Donald Trump, Ron Perelman, Governor George Pataki, and former governor Hugh Carey. "This is the last person you could see doing this to himself,'' said Trump. "He had a really good marriage; they used to come to Mar-a-Lago. He seemed to have so much going for him.''
At the service, a eulogist told of Jeffrey's walking into one of his favorite restaurants on a torrid summer evening and heading straight over to the coat check to give her his usual lavish tip. "Just because I don't have a coat, why should she suffer?'' he asked. His twin brother, Kenneth, recounted a visit to Los Angeles when Jeffrey, driving a Bentley convertible, had trouble following directions. So he hired a taxi driver to find the way, but insisted on driving behind him in his own car. He couldn't bear to arrive in a taxi instead of his Bentley.
Silverman's largesse wasn't limited to wait staff. "He would cross the street to get to a homeless person and give him money," said Rose Smith, a friend of more than 25 years, "and he gave a lot of money to charity without ever wanting his name attached. I wish there were a thousand Jeffreys.''
The Tarnopols themselves are very social. They throw parties at their Park Avenue apartment and East End home -- one recent anniversary bash drew hundreds -- and Mickey is a member of the Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton and the Palm Beach Golf Club. At Central, their fund-raising powers are considered "mythic."
But as evidence mounted that Silverman's generosity -- coupled with spiraling financial problems in recent years -- led to his undoing, acquaintances agonized over why the family's resources hadn't saved him.
"Mickey Tarnopol is a very wealthy man, and Lisa made substantial money in real estate," says Dr. Richard Winter, a close friend of Jeffrey's. "But whether Jeffrey emotionally could tolerate their support was a different matter. Jeffrey hadn't seen the inside of a commercial jet in 25 years. Not even Mickey leads that kind of lifestyle.''