Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Left out in the rain

18th Street and Fifth Avenue. 2:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Rainy days in New York. Yesterday it was hot and fairly humid, and threatening rain until late afternoon when it came down in torrents into the early evening. And then more, off and on after that. The good news for this non-air-conditioned writer is that everything cooled down nicely. So far this summer – the first three weeks – Mother Nature has been very kind to us while also demonstrating the season honestly.

The city is summer quiet. The nabe is much quieter because the two schools nearby are closed. And surely many of the residents are away at least for part of the summer. The traffic yesterday, however, was heavy and confounding. You could read a mood of angst and uncertainty (if you’re “into reading what you see in this great big town). There are lots of tourists in midtown. You can tell that they’re tourists because they dress like they’re at the beach and on the beach. Yesterday, however, there were some strong thunderclaps in the late morning and fewer beach bunnies and their rabbits.
I went down to Michael’s to lunch with Bonnie Strauss and Paula Stein of the Bachmann Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson Foundation. Bonnie who has lived with Dystonia for much of her adult life (she contracted it after her second pregnancy). When she told her father whom she was close to and respected, he advised her to seek solutions for herself, but for others also. That fatherly advice was well taken.

Today there are four Bachmann Strauss Dystonia Centers at Beth Israel Mount Sinai here in New York, a the University of Alabama at Birmingham, at UC San Francisco, and at the University of Florida. In the past twenty-two years of the foundation’s existence they’ve raised about $25 million which has been re-distributed for research grants. You may have read about their 22nd annual fund-raising golf tournament a couple of weeks ago here on the NYSD.
Paula Stein, DPC, and Bonnie Strauss at Michael's.
Most people have never heard of Dystonia, and it is very difficult to diagnose the early symptoms, but it affects people of all ages. And because it is a neurological condition, it can ruin people’s lives. It is an enormous burden for children to grow up with. Bonnie and her associates and contributors/supporters, are dealing with that.

Bonnie and her foundation director Paula Stein make an interesting lunch as there is much to learn and understand. It is also especially interesting to me to hear what they are doing and why. Bonnie’s father was a successful textile manufacturer here in New York. The family lived in Rye. But her father was also an active philanthropist and inculcated his daughter with the values of his objective. When he advised her to do something about it for others, she was naturally predisposed to follow in his footsteps. Families.

Last night, I had dinner at Sette Mezzo as a guest of Scott Stevenson, a young lawyer, the son of a friend of mine, whom I have known since he was a boy, and his fiancee Dr. Karen Duncan. Sette was busy: Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was dining with his wife Judith. Wilbur and Hilary Geary Ross were dining with Harry and Gigi Benson – the Bensons are just back from Paris where the George V is running an exhibition of Harry’s photos of the Beatles at the very beginning of their spectacular career.
Dessert #1: Tartufo topped with stewed cherries.
Also around the room, Gayfryd Steinberg and her fiancé, writer Michael Shnayerson, who will marry next month in Sag Harbor; continuing: Donald Newhouse and family; Geraldine Fabrikant with Shelby White; Harry Macklowe; Billy and Ophelia Rudin with family (including daughter Samantha, and Alex Papachristidis and Scott Nelson); David Wassong; philanthropist Helen Kimmel. New York on a rainy summer night.
Dessert #2: Cherry pie with cherry sorbet.
Today we are running one of those remarkable obituaries from the Telegraph of London – this one of the Duchess of Roxburghe, the first wife of the 9th Duke of Roxburghe of Floors Castle, Scotland. The duchess died last week at age 99. The duke, who was a cousin of Winston Churchill, was also the son of May Goelet, heiress to a Manhattan real estate fortune. May’s mother, Mary Wilson Goelet, was the sister of Grace Wilson, who married Cornelius Vanderbilt III, Orme Wilson, who married Carrie Astor, the daughter of the Mrs. Astor and William Backhouse Astor. The duchess’ divorce from the duke was one of the great scandals of the Edwardian era when women’s rights were practically unheard of.  She survived.

The Telegraph Obituary: Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe
, who has died aged 99, showed courage and tenacity when in 1953 she resisted a six-week campaign by her husband, the 9th Duke, to evict her from Floors Castle, his 100-room ducal seat overlooking the Tweed, near Kelso.

Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, when she was evicted from the Floors Castle, 1953.
9th Duke of Roxburghe.
The mother of Duchess of Roxburghe, Lady Crewe, c. 1899.
He brought the action under Scottish common law which, at that time, laid down that a wife lived in her husband’s house only “by licence”. The Duke gave no reason for wanting to turf his wife out of the family home. The marital dispute was eventually settled out of court and the Duchess departed for London. In December that year she was granted a divorce on account of her husband’s adultery.

Mary Roxburghe had withstood the seige without telephone, electric light or gas. The Duke had ordered the water be turned off, too, but the edict was rescinded after a neighbour, the Earl of Home (as the future Prime Minister was then styled) advised her to warn the insurance company of the fire risk. Other sympathetic neighbours, including Lord Haig, surreptitiously supplied her with food, paraffin lamps and candles for six weeks.

But not everyone took her part. At another border estate, Bowhill, the then Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch were divided in their allegiance. The Duchess sympathised with Mary Roxburghe, but her husband, an aristocrat of the old school, plumped for the duke.

Lady Mary Evelyn Hungerford Crewe-Milnes was born on March 23 1915, the only daughter by the second marriage of the first and last Marquess of Crewe to Lady "Peggy" Primrose. She was named after her godmother, Queen Mary.

Both her parents came from colourful families. Crewe was the son of Monckton Milnes, created Lord Houghton, an MP, man of letters, raconteur, patron of the arts and owner of a fine library containing, as the Complete Peerage demurely put it, “books by no means virginibus puerisque” [ie not “for girls and boys”]. Lord Crewe, who inherited his father’s barony in 1885, was subsequently created an earl (1895) and a marquess (1911). As a Liberal statesman he held several important offices, among them Viceroy of Ireland, Secretary of State for India and the Colonies; Lord President of the Council and Ambassador to France.

The splendour of his career, however, was punctuated by an amiable recklessness in money matters, and in 1904 he was said to have amassed debts of £600,000 (nearly £64 million today) as a result of extravagance and speculation, not least on the racecourse.

Lady Crewe was a daughter of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, Liberal Prime Minister in 1894-95, by Hannah Rothschild, daughter of Baron Mayer de Rothschild, who built Mentmore. She entertained with panache and cast the net of friendship widely. Some found her formidable.

Born into the purple of high office and beautiful possessions, Mary Crewe-Milnes was brought up at Crewe Hall, a huge Jacobean pile rebuilt by Barry, on the outskirts of the Cheshire railway town — and at Crewe House, Curzon Street, one of the last great mansions of Mayfair.
Crewe Hall where Mary Crewe-Milnes was brought up.
In 1935 she was married in Westminster Abbey to the 9th Duke of Roxburghe“Bobo” to his intimates — a Scottish landowner of more than 80,000 acres, and perhaps the best shot in the kingdom.

In 1937 the Duchess’s imposing stature and dark good looks were again seen to advantage in the Abbey at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. With the Duchesses of Buccleuch, Norfolk and Rutland, she carried the new Queen’s train.
Floors Castle, 9th Duke of Roxburghe's 100-room ducal seat overlooking the Tweed.
Mary Roxburghe showed enterprise in the early months of the war by joining a party of “illicit wives” who had wangled passages to the Middle East to be with their Army husbands. Peter Coats, the garden designer and ADC to General Wavell, noted in April 1940: “Palestine is more like Ladies’ Day at Ascot than ever. Actually, I disapprove of them being here, just because they can pull strings and have the fare. But as they are all friends, I can’t work against them.”

The enterprising Mary Roxburghe.
A few weeks later the ever-obliging ADC extricated the Duchess from her car, marooned near Jerusalem in a herd of goats.

After her divorce, Mary Roxburghe spent much of her life at 15, Hyde Park Gardens, a large and elegantly furnished flat overlooking the park. She worked for many charities and was President of the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds. She also became an enthusiastic member of the Royal Society of Literature, and was for many years a devoted patron of the Royal Ballet.

Mary Roxburghe entertained young and old alike with the same attention to detail and Rothschild cuisine as had her parents. She was well-informed on the politics and diplomacy of the day, showing no aversion to gossip. She loved bridge, too.

From her mother, who died in 1967, she inherited West Horsley Place, a spacious 16th century house and estate near Leatherhead, Surrey, where a well-developed aesthetic sense prompted her to allow only the more comely breeds of cattle to graze on her Elysian pastures.
West Horsley Place.
She took a philosophic view of the worldly goods with which she was endowed. When informed in 1983 that Crewe House, sold by her father in 1937 for £90,000, was on the market again for £50 million, she was unimpressed. “I will bear the news with fortitude,” she said.

There were no children of her marriage.

Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, born March 23 1915, died July 2 2014

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