03/09/2017 01:19 pm ET
Jean Shafiroff
Photos by Michael Paniccea
Jean Shafiroff

Jean Shafiroff is an extraordinary humanitarian. A commanding figure in the New York city social scene, Shafiroff dedicates long hours to philanthropic work. Whether she’s advocating an underserved issue, organizing support for a fundraiser, or giving generously of her own finances, Shafiroff harnesses the power of social influence for the benefit of humans and animals alike. Given her endless work on behalf of others, the indulgences of her own luxurious lifestyle registers as a paradox to some. I wanted to unravel this riddle and learn more about the woman dominating Page Six.

On a recent visit to New York, a friend suggested that I meet with a woman he knew to be deeply involved in charitable work. After reading a bit about Jean, I became aware that much attention had been given to detailing her comings and goings in the social world, her fabulous personal style, and the exclusive events she attends–but remarkably, not much about Jean the Woman. So, I called Jean and asked that she meet me for lunch. I wanted to get a glimpse of the personality behind the celebrity. She agreed.

It was a cold day in the city, and I was enjoying a hot cup of coffee and morning newspaper when I looked up to see that Jean had arrived for our meeting. With an invigorated flush from the chill, she apologized for her delay, saying, “I’m usually a little late. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long!” It was my first glimpse of Jean and her demanding schedule. She would later tell me that she has no time to waste after waking each morning, regularly returning e-mails by breakfast before leaving her Park Avenue home for a myriad of afternoon meetings and evening engagements. The bustle didn’t diminish her poise, though, and I was impressed by her warmth and bubbly disposition. With the spirit of a wide-eyed teenager, it seemed that we would become instant friends.

Jean wasn’t born into the ranks of East Coast society. The daughter of a school teacher and homemaker, she enjoyed a modest upbringing and attended Catholic schools. When I asked about the forces that shaped her life, she explained to me that “we are a composite of not only our upbringing and our parents and our teachers but our experiences. My first career was as a physical therapist, and I worked at Saint Luke's Hospital which is right in the Columbia University area, an inner-city hospital. And there I saw a lot of human suffering, and that had a major effect on me. Later traveling to different places in the world, seeing how people really struggle so much more than we ever, or I ever did – I think that really changes how you think about life and your life and the purpose of your life.”

Encouraged by a supportive husband and her two lovely daughters, those lessons have compelled her to use her means to serve her community and country. Jean currently serves on the boards of the NYC Mission Society and New York Women’s Foundation and has chaired signature galas for the Southampton Hospital and Southampton Animal Shelter to mention only a few.

To encourage and guide others to follow in her footsteps, Shafiroff penned Successful Giving: How to Make a Life by What You Give.  She has great advice for those in any stage of life.

“For a young person I would suggest giving a little time to the community. Get involved slowly and see where your interests are, and … follow what interests you,” she explains.

Jean’s own interests range from health and social justice to animal rights,wildlife rescue to historic preservation, and eliciting support for diverse causes which means grabbing attention. And this she can do! The beautiful redhead stuns a crowd when she enters a gala in a fresh designer gown. By offering herself as a “brand” of sorts, her influence has grown through social media and other popular channels. Her reach has expanded to tens of thousands of followers she may have never met but whom identify with her message and calls-to-action. The more eyes turn to her, the more she directs them to her philanthropic mission.

But you don’t need a million-dollar closet to become a style icon. “I think you can dress well on small budget. It's just a question of knowing what works on you and putting things together…. Mix vintage with maybe something from H&M and different things.”

In the end, it is not an outfit but Shafiroff’s life of service that resonates and inspires her audience. And what is better than a ripple effect of goodwill toward others?

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