It was Iole Lucchese’s smile that first gained over Richard “Dick” Robinson, the highly effective head of Scholastic, when the lithe brunette met him at a Canadian booksellers’ convention in 1992.
Lucchese, then 25, was an formidable junior book-club editor on the Toronto department of the New York-based firm that might go on to earn large earnings with the publication of J.Okay. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” collection, starting in 1997.
Although there have been a number of younger girls in related roles at Scholastic Canada’s Book Clubs vying for the eye of the married New York boss every time he made his rounds of the operation, it was Lucchese who would seize his consideration.
“I remember the way he looked at her,” recalled a former Scholastic employee. “I thought ‘Oh, s–t, he’s got his eye on Iole.’”
“She was extremely attractive and she knew she was attractive, and she used that as best she could,” a former Toronto colleague advised The Post.
Soon after that first assembly, Lucchese skilled a meteoric rise at Scholastic Canada earlier than taking over govt roles on the writer’s SoHo headquarters, culminating in her latest appointment as board chair earlier this month. She additionally started a protracted affair with Robinson, who was 30 years her senior.
The relationship finally led to the break-up of Robinson’s second marriage in 2002, publishing world colleagues advised The Post. Robinson’s divorce from Helen Benham, additionally a former Scholastic worker and the mom of his two sons, was finalized two years later, court docket information present.
Last week, Benham, their sons and plenty of within the New York publishing world have been reportedly blindsided to search out out that Robinson, who died all of the sudden in June, left everything to Lucchese. The belongings embody the controlling shares to Scholastic, the $1.2 billion firm began by his father in 1920, and all of his private possessions. Lucchese, whom he described as his “partner and closest friend,” is the executor of his will, in keeping with a duplicate of the doc seen by The Post.
“I was shocked and we were not expecting this,” Benham advised the Wall Street Journal when particulars of the need, drawn up in 2018, have been made public this week. Benham, the proprietor of the SoHo Sanctuary spa in Manhattan, had been with Robinson on the household’s summer season residence in Martha’s Vineyard when he collapsed from a coronary heart assault on June 5. She didn’t return The Post’s requests for remark.
“You might think from the will that he didn’t see his sons,” Maurice “Reece” Robinson, a filmmaker and Robinson’s 25-year-old son advised the Wall Street Journal. “That’s not true. For the last two years, I saw him multiple times a week.”
Son John Benham Robinson, who is 34 and goes by Ben, advised the newspaper that his father’s property plans “served as salt in an open wound.” He additionally mentioned he had by no means met Lucchese and solely spoke to her for the primary time on the phone after his father’s loss of life.
But some of Lucchese’s former colleagues in her hometown of Toronto weren’t shocked by her sudden windfall. They advised The Post this week that the 54-year-old publishing govt, whom they described as sensible, hard-working and impressive, was additionally very strategic when it got here to her profession.
“She’s like a chameleon,” unhappy the Toronto colleague. “I saw her put on that smile that could win you over, and then she abruptly turned around and walked away.”
There is little public details about Iole (pronounced ih-o-leh) Lucchese in New York, despite the fact that she has been a fixture on the firm’s company headquarters since not less than 2014, and is described as a everlasting US resident in court docket paperwork.
In latest years, as head of technique and later as vice chairman for the corporate, she has been instrumental in turning some of Scholastic’s hottest titles, reminiscent of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “The Magic School Bus” into award-winning animated TV and reside motion movies.
Former colleagues say she has been commuting backwards and forwards from her residence base in Toronto, the place she lives in a $4 million Tudor-inspired gated residence in a complicated neighborhood. She and her husband, Quentin Kong, a advertising and marketing and gross sales govt of Caribbean-Chinese descent, purchased the house in 2006. When the wedding ended, Kong transferred it to her for $2, public information present. Their son, now in his early twenties, and Kong nonetheless reside in Canada.
Lucchese was born in 1966 to workin-class Italian immigrant mother and father Rosa and Cesidio Lucchese. She grew up in Toronto with sister Eva, and was the primary in her household to attend faculty, in keeping with a company bio. Lucchese graduated with a BA from the University of Toronto in 1989 and later married fellow scholar Kong. It’s not clear once they divorced, though they have been collectively listed in 2013 as monetary donors to the Crescent School, one of the town’s most unique personal boys’ college the place their son was a scholar.
“She was never really into her husband, and was often dismissive of him,” recalled a publishing trade supply who knew Lucchese in Toronto. “Her work always came first.”
It’s a attribute she shared with Robinson, who usually put in 12-to-16 hour work days. Under his tenure, Scholastic grew into the most important youngsters’s writer on the planet. thanks largely to the success of the “Harry Potter” collection, and different widespread titles reminiscent of “Captain Underpants” and “Goosebumps.”
Robinson additionally shaped his most lasting romantic relationships on the firm. Colleagues described him as socially awkward in public settings, but additionally “a serial philanderer” who slept with some of the ladies he employed.
Robinson’s first spouse, Katherine Prentis Woodroofe, was the editor of Scholastic Scope Magazine. They wed in 1968 when Robinson was editorial director and his father, Richard Robinson Sr., was nonetheless chairman of the board, in keeping with their New York Times marriage ceremony announcement. Robinson, who held levels from Harvard, Cambridge University and Columbia and had as soon as labored as a trainer in Illinois, turned president of Scholastic in 1974. He was named chairman of the board in 1982 after the loss of life of his father.
In the early Eighties, Robinson began courting Benham whereas nonetheless married to Woodroofe, participating in military-like maneuvers to be sure that his girlfriend didn’t move by his spouse’s desk at Scholastic headquarters, a former worker advised The Post.
“Dick was like the Sun King of Versailles,” the previous worker mentioned, evaluating Robinson to France’s Louis XIV, who saved a small military of mistresses.
Robinson, who married Benham in 1986, was additionally nothing like a stereotypical cut-throat govt, former staff mentioned. In addition to publishing, he dabbled in eating places, changing into an early investor in Balthazar, the now legendary SoHo restaurant opened by Keith McNally, his neighbor in Martha’s Vineyard, in 1997. He lived in a sprawling Greenwich Village penthouse, the place actor Alec Baldwin was his neighbor.
Robinson and Lucchese started their romantic relationship within the Nineteen Nineties, in keeping with former workers. (He and Benham would formally divorce in 2003.)
“He was clearly besotted with Iole, but the relationship was never acknowledged and never spoken about,” mentioned a Canadian entrepreneur who had carried out enterprise with each Lucchese and Robinson. “At first they tried to keep it under wraps, but soon everyone pretty much knew.”
Despite the connection, Lucchese “could be completely dismissive of [Robinson] in public and very mean to him during meetings. It was not graceful,” the entrepreneur mentioned.
One former Scholastic govt director referred to the 2 as “the Bickersons.”
Robinson was so enamored of Lucchese that he wished to make her president of Scholastic Canada within the late Nineteen Nineties, earlier than then-President Larry Muller was able to retire.
“To her credit, she said ‘No, let Larry carry on. I’ll learn from Larry and we’ll do it nicely,’” the previous Scholastic employee advised The Post. “Maybe she felt she wasn’t ready or maybe she didn’t want to deal with the gossip.”
When Muller retired in 2004, Lucchese was made co-president of the Canadian operation together with Scholastic Canada govt Linda Gosnell. A company bio says that, below Lucchese’s tenure, annual revenues on the subsidiary grew from $25 million to $150 million.
By 2014, Lucchese was spending more and more extra time in New York. In Canada, the previous Scholastic employee mentioned, she began to amass “a patina of New Yorkness,” changing into extra subtle in her fashion of dressing and much more formidable.
Both Lucchese and Robinson have been described as being “passionate” about Scholastic, which is in all probability why he finally left her the corporate, mentioned a supply. Neither of his two sons confirmed curiosity within the enterprise, the supply mentioned.
Yet an obituary within the Vineyard Gazette mentioned that Robinson had been spending weekends at his summer season home, jogging every day and talking along with his sons and Benham, who had grow to be an in depth pal after their divorce, about “moving the company in the digital age to reach parents directly.”
In 2019, Lucchese accompanied Robinson to the PEN gala on the Museum of Natural History, the place his neighbor Baldwin offered the Scholastic head with an award for his contribution to youngsters’s publishing. Baldwin learn a letter from “Harry Potter” writer Rowling who described her relationship with Robinson as “one of the most significant and meaningful partnerships of my life.”
While he actually valued Rowling, whose books went on to generate practically $8 billion in worldwide income, it was Lucchese who had been Dick Robinson’s most vital and significant companion.
“Iole must have been the love of his life,” mentioned the previous worker. “That would really explain why he left her everything.”