Lippert, Felice Sally

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Lippert, Felice Sally

(b. 9 February 1930 in New York City; d. 22 February 2003 in Manhasset, New York), businesswoman who helped develop a neighborhood weight loss program into Weight Watchers International, one of the world’s foremost weight control organizations.

Lippert was born in the Bronx, New York City, the youngest of the five children of Charles William and Mollie (Weissblum) Mark, eastern European immigrants. Lippert, who grew up in a Jewish kosher household, majored in home economics at Hunter College, from which she received a BA in 1951. She then taught second grade in Tuckahoe, New York. On 21 June 1953 she married Albert Lippert, a merchandise manager for a women’s apparel chain. The couple settled in Baldwin Harbor, New York, and had two sons. The Lipperts had an active social life organized around weekly meetings with friends. Dancing was a favorite activity.

According to their son Keith, the Lipperts had one problem. They were overweight and could not keep the weight off. He said they were like two beach balls. Then they heard about Jean Nidetch and her weight loss program. In 1961 Nidetch, a forty-year-old homemaker in Queens, New York City, had begun to lose her resolve in following a health department weight loss program. She gathered a group of her overweight friends to meet weekly, share food stories, and give one another motivational support. Most important, they lost weight. The meetings were so successful that Nidetch found herself with more than forty people attending weekly meetings in her home, so she began organizing meetings in other people’s homes.

When they heard about her work, the Lipperts invited Nidetch to one of their weekly social meetings. After meeting every week for four months, Albert had lost forty pounds and Felice almost fifty. The Lipperts became convinced that many other people could benefit from Nidetch’s program. Albert Lippert, a skilled marketer, began to advise Nidetch. The Lipperts met weekly with Nidetch and her husband, Martin, and formed a four-person partnership. Sitting around Lippert’s kitchen table, the partners explored ways to turn the program into a business. They came up with the name Weight Watchers and devised a system for monitoring food intake. They decided to rent a public meeting space and have people come to hear Nidetch speak.

In May 1963 Weight Watchers was incorporated in Queens, New York City. The first Weight Watchers class met each week in a small loft in Little Neck, Queens, with participants paying $2.00 per meeting. A second group was organized in Baldwin, New York. Soon Nidetch, an inspiring speaker, was holding several meetings a day, seven days a week. When Nidetch tired of this frantic schedule, Albert Lippert suggested that the company hire as meeting leaders persons with good communication skills who had lost weight using the Weight Watchers program. Soon one hundred leaders were running programs throughout New York City. Within a year the company was selling Weight Watchers franchises.

Between 1963 and 1967 Albert Lippert organized training programs for the company that expanded throughout the United States and overseas. In 1965 he contracted with food companies to produce Weight Watchers food lines. In 1968 the company went public. Felice Lippert helped guide and expand the business as treasurer, director, and vice president. She emphasized the need for healthy dieting and proper nutrition. By the 1970s Felice was vice president and director of the professional food research department, overseeing a medical director and a staff of nutritionists. In 1971 she developed one of the company’s most successful ideas, the Weight Watchers cookbooks. The first cookbook made the best-seller list and sold more than 1.5 million copies. Lippert also helped launch the magazine Weight Watchers and was its associate editor. Civic minded and an active fund raiser, Lippert served on the boards of Baruch and Hunter Colleges, the North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, the American Ireland Fund, and the Cancer Research and Treatment Fund. She had a lifetime interest in home economics education, participating in home economics associations on the local and national levels.

Guided by the Lipperts and Nidetch’s exceptional speaking skills, Weight Watchers grew rapidly. In 1973 Nidetch resigned as president and devoted herself entirely to public relations. Albert Lippert continued to organize the company, hiring new staff in the areas of marketing, advertising, licensing, and nutrition. He experienced two heart attacks in the 1970s and recognized that the company’s phenomenal growth was too rapid for him and his small managerial staff. Annual revenues had grown to approximately $50 million.

In 1978 the Lipperts sold Weight Watchers to the H. J. Heinz Company for approximately $100 million. Lippert continued her work as chairwoman of Weight Watchers Foundation, which promotes nutritional education. The Lipperts acquired the South African Weight Watchers franchise in the-mid 1990s. In 1998 on a business trip to South Africa, Albert Lippert suffered a fatal stroke. Felice Lippert died of lung cancer at North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, at the age of seventy-three, survived by her two sons, two sisters, two brothers, and four grandchildren.

Working together, Felice and Albert Lippert achieved enormous wealth by taking an idea and growing it into an international business. They were on a mission that started in their kitchen and reached the entire world. Through her work with Weight Watchers, Lippert remained committed to the goal of educating people about proper nutrition so that they could be healthy.

The early days of Weight Watchers and Felice Lippert’s contributions are described in Jean Nidetch, Weight Watchers New Program Cookbook (1972). Obituaries are in the New York Times (27 Feb. 2003) and Daily Post (Liverpool, England) (2 Apr. 2003).

Julianne Cicarelli