Oscar Dystel died Wednesday, May 28th at the age of 101, in his home in Westchester County. It may be somehow fitting that Mr. Dystel’s passing is commemorated on May 28 as this is World MS Day, a day which unites MS organizations around the globe in efforts to build awareness and understanding for a disease which robbed Oscar of his only son, John.
“Oscar achieved with his life what we all strive for with our own lives,” said Cyndi Zagieboylo, president and CEO of the National MS Society, “he made the world a better place by his presence, particularly for those with MS who now live better lives because of him..”
Professionally, Mr. Dystel is best known for his shrewd business acumen and marketing skills which rescued Bantam Books from brink of bankruptcy and turned it into the largest publisher of paperbacks at the time of his retirement in 1980. Just some of the blockbuster paperbacks he brought to the public arena are: “Battle Cry” by Leon Uris, “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann, and “The Catcher in the Rye,” in which Salinger himself designed the book cover. Mr. Dystel’s motto for success was, “There’s no disastrous situation in publishing which cannot be saved by the publication of one really big best seller.”
When multiple sclerosis cut short the promising legal career of his son, John, it was then that Oscar decided to turn his creative attention and his marketing and business skills toward moving the world closer to a world free of MS. He was elected to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society board in 1976 and was named an Honorary Life Director in 2003. During those years of his affiliation with the Society, he co-founded the Southern New York Chapter, assisted with the publication of the book, “Courage,” which profiled Sylvia Lawry, the founder of the National MS Society and the MS Movement, and created the Dystel MS Nursing Fellowship.
In 1994, with his wife Marion, he established the John Dystel Multiple Sclerosis Research Fund in honor of their son, John. The fund provides for the John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research, which is given to a scientist who has made significant contributions to the understanding, treatment or prevention of MS. The John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research is awarded jointly by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). The Prize is currently in the amount of $15,000.
Oscar’s wife of 65 years, the former Marion Deitler, and his son, John died in 2003. He is survived by his daughter Jane, a literary agent, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren who continue Oscar’s legacy of moving us closer to a world free of MS.