Aimee de Heeren

Aimee de Heeren
In Memoriam. 9/25/06 - Aimee de Heeren, a long time fixture on the international social scene and the Best-Dressed lists, died on September 13 at her home here in New York. She was 103, and is survived by her daughter Cristina Noble and her granddaughter Victoria Noble.

Mrs. de Heeren was the widow of Rodman de Heeren, an heir to the Wanamaker department store fortune whom she met and married in 1941 when she was thirty-eight years old. After the Second World War, the couple moved to Europe where they established a base in Biarritz and traveled frequently, eventually maintaining homes in Palm Beach and New York as well.

Born in Brazil, Mrs. de Heeren, who had a brief earlier marriage to a distant cousin, had only a basic education which she enhanced all her life with an all-consuming desire to learn. She had many friends from all walks of life including aristocrats, intellectuals and artists. She spoke six languages albeit not all perfectly but well enough, as her daughter put it “to move around society in a spectacular manner.”

Known for her elegance, originality and taste, Mrs. de Heeren was well fortified with great beauty and charm, not to mention an exquisite kindness in the way she treated others, a quality found all too rarely.

I asked Jimmy Douglas, an American who has lived much of his life in Paris, and a friend of Mrs. de Heeren, if he would share some brief recollections of his friendship with her. The following are his memories, accompanied by some photographs he took of her.

Aimee de Heeren

by James Douglas.

When I first met her in 1993, Mrs. Rodman de Heeren, née Aimée de Sa Sottomaior, was living at 73 Rue de Varenne in the house belonging to Lord Granard. It was one of the largest private houses in Paris subsequently bought by the Sultan of Brunei. I remember at the time being astonished to learn that Aimée walked up the two flights of stairs to get to her apartment despite being 90 years old. I later realized that by doing this, and also frequently taking long walks, she got the amount of exercise she needed to stay in good form. She also had a gymnastics coach, who came to the house three times a week, and a masseur. In addition, she was attended by one or both of the Brazilian maids, Lydia and Aparecida, her secretary Marie France and, in later years, a night nurse.

I don’t think I ever met anyone who was looked after to a greater extent than she was. At the beach in Biarritz, for example, where she went in the summer, she was always accompanied into the waves by Lydia on the one side and Aparecida on the other. Up until about five years ago she looked to be a good 25 to 30 years younger than her age. The photograph I took of her in the blue dress when she was 95 shows how beautiful she was still at that age. A few years later she got pneumonia and from then on she was not the same, although she still had remarkable energy until she came down with pneumonia again recently, which was the cause of her death.

Aimee de Heeren at Rue du Bac dinner.
Aimme with Dominick Dunne.

When well into her nineties, she looked wonderful, had marvelous energy and enthusiasm and good health which enabled her to enjoy life to the fullest at her house in Biarritz, her apartment in Paris, her beautiful Mizner house on North County Road in Palm Beach, and her town house on East 90th Street in New York.

She enjoyed life immensely and told me when I first knew her that she wanted to live to a great age. She believed in the benefits of Omega 3 oil about 25 years ago, long before it became as popular as it is today, and was taking a Brazilian version of it called fish jelly. She was also a devout follower of Dr. d’Adamo and his eat-right-for-your-blood-type theory. She was living testimony to the value of Omega 3 oil and the blood type diet. At her house in Biarritz one was treated to the most wonderful assortment of vegetables imaginable, and at her apartment in Paris, to exquisite haute cuisine.

Cristina Noble, Jimmy Douglas, Aimee, and Aline, Countess de Romanones in Palm Beach.

The Last Great House in Palm Beach.

Louwana was named for Mary Louise Wanamaker, the first wife of Gurnee Munn, who had the house built next door to his brother, Charles Munn, "Mr. Palm Beach," whose house was known as Amado. Gurnee Munn and his younger brother, Ector, married Wanamaker sisters. Ector Munn's wife was Fernanda who married Arturo Heeren. Their son Rodman married Aimee de Sa Sottomaior. 

Aimee de Heeren maintained Louwana in magnificent museum condition -- a wonderful metaphor for an extraordinary life. Even though there are considerably larger houses, even grander houses, older houses, houses no longer houses but public places, clubs and museums, there is an incomparable aura about Louwana that, for me, makes it, "The Last Great House in Palm Beach."

— Clemmer Mayhew III

Panorama view from the pool house.
The legendary Mizner staircase.
Courtyard detail with Spanish tiles and Ave Maria statue.
View from the pool house with wrought-iron light from Mizner Industries.
View from the second story landing looking towards the pool.
Courtyard entry.
Photographs by Clemmer Mayhew III