Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Light and Darkness

St. Patrick’s Cathedral with this Olympic Tower behind. 4:30 PM. Photo: Jeffrey Hirsch.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Sunny, cold day, no snow (that was predicted). It was also the St. Patrick’s Day parade on Fifth Avenue, which made getting around midtown a little on the difficult side, especially on the side streets. But New Yorkers by now are used to slow going in midtown on any given day.
Crossing Fifth Avenue at 55th Street on my way to Michael's, I was halted by the parade so I decided to take a vid of what was passing by.
Christopher Mason and Francine LeFrak, yesterday at Michael's and the wearin' o' the green.
Deaths. Rachel Lambert “Bunny” Mellon, the widow of philanthropist and art collector Paul Mellon, died early yesterday morning at her 4,000 acre horse farm Oak Spring Farms in Upperville, Virginia. She would have been 104 on August 9th.  Mrs. Mellon, who had been in declining health, died peacefully with members of her family present.

Americans first heard about Bunny Mellon as a national figure in the 1960s when she had been involved with Jackie Kennedy in the re-decoration of the White House during the Kennedy Administration, and then later when after the assassination of President Kennedy, she completed a design for the Rose Garden under the auspices of Lady Bird Johnson. It was especially her friendship with Mrs. Kennedy that brought her to the attention of the general public. Her friendship between the Kennedys and the Mellons had already been established before, and after the President’s death, she was known to be a generous and caring friend to Mrs. Kennedy and her children.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Bunny Mellon, 1961. (AP)
Bunny Mellon directs the placement of flowers at Robert F. Kennedy's gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery, June 8, 1968. (AP).
She was born Rachel Lowe Lambert in Princeton, New Jersey on August 9, 1910, the eldest child of Rachel Parkhill Lowe (who gave her daughter the lifelong nickname of Bunny) and Gerard Barnes Lambert. Her grandfather Jordan Lambert invented Listerine which her father marketed as an antidote to "halitosis," after which he founded Warner-Lambert Pharmaceuticals. He later became president of Gillette Safety Razor Company which made several common American household products, including the razor blades, the mouthwash and also Dentyne chewing gum. The company was eventually merged into Pfizer chemicals.

Mrs. Mellon’s first husband, Stacy B. Lloyd Jr., with whom she had two children – a son Stacy III and a daughter Eliza -- was a Philadelphia socialite who served in the OSS during the Second World War. The Lloyds were good friends of Paul Mellon, the billionaire heir of his father, Secretary of the Treasury in the 1920s Andrew W. Mellon, and his wife Mary Conover Mellon. When the first Mrs. Mellon died from an asthma attack in 1948, Bunny Lloyd divorced her husband and married Paul Mellon.
Paul and Bunny Mellon, with her daughter Eliza Lloyd, at the preview of the Mellons' collection of English art at the Royal Academy in London. Eliza Lloyd was hit by a truck while crossing a Manhattan street in 2000, causing a brain injury and full body paralysis. She died in 2008. (AP)
Paul and Bunny Mellon were well-established members of Eastern U.S. Society, both heirs to large well-established fortunes created from banking and industry. They were very well known within their “world” of society. She was a fulltime client of Paris couture, especially Balenciaga and later Hubert de Givenchy, but both inclined to eschew any kind of celebrity, and so they were not famous, the sources of their separate fortunes notwithstanding.

They were highly cultivated connoisseurs of art and the decorative arts, as well as in the breeding of racehorses at the Oak Spring Farms. Mr. Mellon collected 18th and 19th century painting, and Mrs. Mellon collected modern art including many works of Mark Rothko which she purchased at the artist’s studio. Over the years, the couple donated more than a thousand works of art to the National Gallery of Art (initially funded by Andrew Mellon) in Washington, and to the Yale Center for British Art (Paul Mellon was a member of the class of ’29), which the Mellons established in 1966.
Bunny and Paul Mellon, with one of their thoroughbreds.
Paul and Bunny Mellon, shown just after Sea Hero's Kentucky Derby victory in 1993.
Lady Bird with Paul and Bunny Mellon.
Despite the modest demeanor of their public personalities, the Mellons lived high, wide and handsome, maintaining sprawling residences in New York, Upperville, Cape Cod, Antigua, Nantucket and Paris, although their main residence seemed to be Oak Spring Farms where they kept a fulltime staff of more than one hundred. They also had built their own mile-long jet landing strip on the property, much to the dismay of one of their landed neighbors.

A friend of mine was once being given a tour of the property adjacent to Oak Spring when the Mellons’ private jet took off, reminding the neighbor of the annoyance of having their pastoral scene frequently interrupted by a jet — which Mrs. Mellon would often use to fly to Reagan National to go to Washington, only forty miles away from the farm. This one particular day, ten minutes later the same plane returned, to which the neighbor cracked, “Oh, Bunny Mellon must have forgotten her scarf!”
Bunny Mellon's Oak Spring Farms in Upperville, Virginia. (VF/Jonathan Becker)
Carol Joynt's photo of Route 623, aka "The Mellon Road."
Besides their mutual interests in the arts and horse breeding, Bunny Mellon had developed an interest in gardening (and subsequently in botany) when she was a young girl and her father designated a small plot of land for her to start a garden. Over her lifetime she became not only an expert but an archivist of horticulture, building an elaborate private library on the subject at Oak Spring – which is why Jacqueline Kennedy asked her to do a makeover of the White House Rose Garden. During the Kennedy Administration she was an active supporter of Jackie Kennedy’s White House entertainment, never stinting on assisting with the expense of Mrs. Kennedy’s extravagant entertaining.

The Mellon marriage was successful in terms of its longevity and durability although Paul Mellon was known to have had a long extra-marital relationship with a very popular and much liked Washington socialite Dorcas Hardin. This was not a secret to his wife. There is an oft-told story that sometimes when Mr. Mellon spoke in a rather loud voice to his wife, she would respond, “Paul, it’s Bunny you’re speaking to, not Dorcas ...” (who was known to be hard of hearing). Nevertheless, all matters of matrimonial tradition were upheld religiously (if not according to religious tenets) and respectfully. Furthermore Bunny Mellon had a list of intensely passionate interests that occupied her every spare moment.
Mellon, photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson in her Oak Spring garden, 1962.
In many ways, besides being a connoisseur, she was a true artist. Along with horticulture, she and her husband took a deep interest in architecture, and she in interior design. Later in life she was frequently involved (with a fulltime interior designer) in constantly re-decorating and refurbishing her houses, furniture and the landscape.  She had an artist’s eye for all of it, never overlooking the slightest detail right down to the pruning of the beloved forest of trees that adorned her farm.

Paul Mellon died in 1999 after a long illness. Already in her mid-80s, Bunny Mellon soldiered on creating with her passionate interests. She also inadvertently gained national attention for having contributed more than $3 million to the Presidential Primary campaign of Senator John Edwards. Bryan Huffman, an interior designer from North Carolina who was a friend of hers, introduced them. Some of her contribution was later revealed to have been used by the Senator to support a woman with whom he had fathered a child in an extra-marital relationship.
Paul Mellon's final resting place, with a julep cup of carnations and a tiny wooden sailboat Andrew Mellon's final resting place.
She claimed innocence, although she made it known that she had met the Senator because she liked the national policies he espoused. Others believed that she was the victim of Mr. Edwards’ fatal charm. It was true, friends of hers later admitted, that even at her advanced age she remained vulnerable to the charms of good looking men who were both talented and attentive to her. It was a kind of innocence that a true, lifelong heiress could be vulnerable to. Her relationship with events designer Robert Isabell was another example. She and Isabell, who was fifty years her junior, were very close pals, sharing the same intense interest in horticulture and interior decoration. They talked the same creative language, and saw each other frequently. It was a mutual admiration.

Isabell was also impressed by Mrs. Mellon’s knowledge and talented eye, not to mention her awesome wealth and lifestyle. There was a moment when friends of the event planner (who was gay) believed they might actually marry. And when he died suddenly in still questionable circumstances, Mrs. Mellon insisted that he be buried on her farm.

Because she was a woman of great personal fortune all her life, unlike women who claim authority wearing the badge of their husbands’ fortunes, she was never recognized for her ambition. Instead it was personified by her creative passions, and acknowledged for its uniqueness. She was a gentle and generous lady to many, although not without the sense of personal prerogatives that very rich heiresses possess when it comes to relationships with other people. If Bunny Mellon were tired, for whatever reason, of another person, they could find themselves out of the picture, suddenly cut off, with no access to her whatsoever. That was a natural defense that she developed with maturity.

At the end of her life she suffered from macular degeneration as well as cancer.  She had outlived the stamina demanded by her elaborate and far-flung lifestyle. Several years ago, I was told by a very good source, that her advisors had canvassed some of the big banks in New York for a $100 million dollar line of credit, backed by a half billion dollar portfolio of assets, but to no avail. She began to divest herself of assets, like the New York townhouse on East 70th Street that has recently been re-sold, as well as the properties on Cape Cod and in Paris. She also mistakenly fell prey to the financial wiles and wayward charms of one Ken Starr, not the Clinton nemesis, but the so-called “financial advisor” of the same name who relieved a number of her friends and celebrated acquaintances of millions of their fortunes.

Despite her fabulous lifestyle, her elaborate personal projects and interests, her fashionable presentation, all enhanced by her vast inherited wealth, Bunny Mellon was unique — a simple girl who lived close to the earth in her daily life, a caring and affectionate friend of nature who loved nothing more than pleasing people with her ability to amaze. Many years ago when her friend Jackie Kennedy, took up learning to paint watercolors, Bunny Mellon presented her with a small paintbox. Opening the box, Jackie found in each square where the palette of colors would be located, two precious gems corresponding to those colors: rubies for red, emeralds for green, sapphires for blue, etc.; and in the place where the paintbrush would be kept, two hooks of precious metal earrings to hold each stone. A memento designed to delight a precious friend. Which is what Bunny Mellon was to many.
Bunny Mellon looking out at the terrace at Oak Spring Farms. Photo by Horst for Vogue.
 

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