Monday, February 8, 2016

Leave It to the Girls

Hudson River crossing, Friday at 11:30 AM. Photo: JH.
Monday, February 8, 2016. Mainly sunny weekend in New York with temperatures in the mid-40s except in the very late hours when it was freezing or below. This was the weekend of the Super Bowl. Most Americans, or at least a healthy percentage, know this. A lot of people had small parties at their apartment, to watch.

I went to dinner with a friend at Sette Mezzo. Sette Mezzo is a very popular restaurant in the neighborhood. It was practically empty. Probably seven or eight tables. I asked what happened? I didn’t know? It’s like Hollywood (L.A.) on the night of the Oscars. Restaurants are empty until 9 or 9:30 (midnight or more in the East).
From my terrace: Friday morning's snow visit; nature's exquisite art. Friday, 11 AM.
Yesterday, Ned Brown, who occasionally contributes to the NYSD from Charleston, sent me a message informing me that Robin Duke died on Saturday at age 92 at an assisted living residence in Charleston.

Mrs. Duke is not nationally famous — although she had that moment in her younger years — but she was very well known in social and philanthropic circles in New York and other cities of the world. I did not “know” her although I had been introduced to her, and was in her company a number of times at various charity galas. I don’t recall our ever having had a conversation but I was well aware of her presence and her well respected prominence, and as it is with me, she was a person who was always fascinating to observe.

Robin Chandler Duke at Dalia and Larry Leeds' 50th wedding anniversary in 2006. Photo: DPC.
I was only familiar with her during the last twenty-five years — which were her older years when much of her accomplishments were behind her. She was notable to the eye because she was very good looking, a beauty in an approachable way, and carried herself  with a kind of serenity. It was clear to me just by her bearing that she was a “serious” person and her commitments were — as you will read — issues for all of us, but especially for women in the world. Not necessarily women we all know or know about, but women who are struggling to keep everything together including their own personal existences — women who are still under the thumb of ancient sexist traditions.

I was well aware of this in the years I have known of her and her interests. However, reading her obituary — which was sent to me by Ned Brown yesterday, I saw that woman I knew, but much much more. She was remarkable for her achievements as a girl from Baltimore who came to New York at sixteen — to work — initially as a floorwalker in department stores, to be with her older sister with whom she supported their mother. That was in 1939. The path she was able to make for herself including modeling, to journalism, to trading on Wall Street, to a television career on the original Today Show  with Dave Garroway, and beyond, way beyond described a woman of ambition and purpose. A mother’s ideal daughter.

Reading about it, I could only think that the woman I saw fairly frequently, often at black tie affairs, started life as a teenager with responsibilities, a “toiler” as working girls were known in her day, not only made a great and interesting life for herself but became a force in our society. I was rather surprised in a way because she wore her achievements very matter-of-factly, even unassumingly. I understood this after reading her obituary.
Luly Duke, Robin Chandler Duke, and Tony Duke at the Boys & Girls Harbor 12th Annual Salute to Achievement in 2004 Robin was married to Tony's brother, Angier Duke, who predeceased her. (Photo: Patrick McMullan).
She had two marriages — one to a man who had a brief but successful career as a leading man in the movies and on stage; and secondly to Angier Duke, a scion of a rich American family of what was once referred to as High Society. But neither marriage, you can see — had anything to do with her effectiveness as a professional and as a philanthropist: she was a power, simply put.

At the end of this obituary, which was apparently composed by one of her children, there is the cautionary advice (to her) of “don’t take any wooden nickels.” That phrase which dates back to the Civil War and other economically distressed times, is a way of saying  “watch out” who you’re dealing with. Evidently, but not surprisingly, Mrs. Duke was a lady who could/would/might take a chance for the benefit of one of her causes.

From the Charleston Post and Courier:
Robin Chandler Duke, 1923 - 2016.
Robin Chandler Duke was born Grace Esther Tippett in Baltimore, Maryland on October 13, 1923. She changed her name to Robin Chandler when she went into broadcasting in New York in the '40's. She was a champion of women's health and reproductive rights, a corporate executive and board member on some of the nation's largest companies, a journalist and a U.S. Ambassador to Norway. Duke died on Saturday, Feb. 6th at Bishop Gadsden retirement community in Charleston, SC at the age of 92.

Duke began her working life at the age of 16, joining her sister in New York, where they supported themselves and their mother. Duke was a floor walker in assorted department stores in New York and was a model at the New York World's Fair in 1939.

In the 1940s, Duke was a panelist on an early television talk show "Leave It to the Girls," created by pioneering broadcast journalist, Martha Roundtree. Duke worked as a writer for the women's page at the New York Journal American (1944-46) before marrying Warner Brothers' actor, Jeffrey Lynn, and moving to Los Angeles.

Returning to the east coast in the '50s with two children, Jeffrey and Letitia, Duke worked at WCAU -TV (an NBC affiliate in Philadelphia) and as an anchor on the Today Show with Dave Garroway, where she covered the 1952 Democratic Convention.
Robin Chandler with her first husband, Jeffrey Lynn, at the Stork Club in 1946.
Duke divorced Lynn in 1958 and became one of the few women stockbrokers on Wall Street, working the commodities desk for Orvis Brothers (1953-58) before becoming VP of International Public Relations at Pepsi Cola (1958-62). At Pepsi Cola, Duke created a promotion in Africa that led to a four-month tour of West Africa with Louis Armstrong and his band.

In 1959, she attended the Moscow Fair, where she helped orchestrate the placement of Pepsi in the hands of then Vice President Nixon, who was on a state visit, and Premier Nikita Khrushchev for a unique promotional photo with the marketing slogan - "Be sociable, have a Pepsi".

While arranging the U.S. premiere exhibition of the Peruvian Inca Gold in the lobby of the Pepsi Cola building on Park Avenue, she met Angier Biddle Duke, whom she later married in 1962 and followed to Washington, D.C., where he was serving as Chief of Protocol for President John F. Kennedy. Mr. Duke was a scion of the family that made its fortune in tobacco and founded Duke University and Duke Energy.
Jacqueline Kennedy chats with Robin Chandler Duke in 1962 after Ms. Duke's wedding to Angier Biddle Duke, President John F. Kennedy's chief of protocol.
Following the death of JFK, Duke worked alongside her husband, who served as Ambassador to Spain, Denmark and Morocco before moving to London, where she struck up a lifelong friendship with General William Henry Draper, Jr., who convinced her to serve as Co-Chair of Population Action International ('75-'96). Draper helped establish the organization in response to the growing economic and environmental challenges of the global population explosion.

Duke's leadership of Population Action International led to her serving as trustee of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and president of the National Abortion Rights Action League's Pro-Choice America and the National Abortion Rights Action Committee and consultant for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.

She spent thirty years advocating in the United States and abroad for women's access to birth control, family planning, family health care and education. Duke was a fierce and tireless lobbyist in Congress, fighting against measures limiting women's access to contraception and fighting for funding both at home and abroad for family planning and health care, particularly for the poor.
Robin Chandler Duke and President Martti Ahtisaari attending the American Scandinavian Foundation's Spring Dinner Dance in 2006.
Hon. Robin Duke receives the Distinguished Service Award from Japan Foundation's Chairman Thomas S. Johnson in 2010.
"You want to lift Africa out of poverty?" she was known to ask rhetorically, "Well, then, give women access to contraception and clean water."

Duke was an ardent Democrat and proudly called herself a New Yorker, despite stints living elsewhere. She campaigned unsuccessfully but ardently for U.S. Representative from New York's "silk stocking" district, when the seat was vacated by Ed Koch who became Mayor in 1978.

In another life, she would have loved to be a senator. In every facet of her life, from the boardroom to embassies, from the ski slopes to the streets of her beloved New York, Duke was a force. Always impeccably dressed and elegantly-mannered, Duke was fiercely opinionated, outspoken, and ready to roll up her sleeves and go to work for the people and causes in which she believed.
Robin Chandler Duke, with her grandaughters Maggie and Ellie, being sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Norway by U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke in 2000. (Richard Drew, Associated Press).
In 2000, Duke was appointed Ambassador to Norway by President Clinton. She had previously served with the title of Ambassador at the 21st General Conference of UNESCO, the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in 1980.

At the Bishop Gadsden retirement community in Charleston, SC, where she spent the last few years of her life, her mostly conservative co-residents called Duke the "Resident Communist" for her liberal outspokenness on every issue. She loved that.

Robin Chandler Duke in New York magazine's Look Book (Photo: Jake Chessum).
Duke served as a board member, trustee and chair of numerous corporate, foundation and organization boards, including: the U.N. Association of the United States of America, Guggenheim Foundation, Rockwell International ('77-'95), American Home Products Corp. (AHP), International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), Emigrant Savings Bank, Worldwatch Institute, World Childhood Foundation, International Rescue Committee, Institute of International Education, Population Action International, Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, Millennium Project of the Friends of Art and Preservation of Embassies, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, US - Japan Foundation, World Affairs Council, and the Advisory Board of the Tolstoy Foundation. Duke was also a longstanding member of The Council on Foreign Relations, The Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Colony Club and The River Club of New York.

Duke received many awards, but was most proud of the Mary Lasker Social Service Award (1991) and Planned Parenthood Federation's Margaret Sanger Award (1997).

Duke leaves three children, who tried in vain to keep up with her, Jeffrey Lynn (FL), Tish Lynn (SC), and Biddle Duke (VT and L.I.); two stepchildren, Marilu Duke Cluett (VT) and Dario Duke (Washington State); her daughter-in-law, Idoline Duke; and four devoted grandchildren, Maggie and Nick Valiunas, Ellie and Angie Duke; and many friends and admirers.

Don't take any wooden nickels, Mom. Family will receive friends at the home of Ms. Lynn at 18 Queen Street on Thursday, February 11th from 4-7PM. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a contribution to the Center for Heirs' Property Preservation at: www.heirsproperty.org.
Also, while we're on the subject.

Duane Hampton
sent me this memorial yesterday about a man I never heard of but as she points out, had a lot of friends, acquaintances, fans and clients in New York:

Andrew Clunn.
Andrew Clunn, who worked with David Webb for years before opening his own New York City business, was a talented and internationally-known jeweler with a lively appreciation of the arts and a talent for friendship. In his business life he was frequently on the road both in the United States and on the Continent to visit various coteries of devoted friends and buyers of his imaginative designs for necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings and pins.

Andrew delighted in traveling for pleasure as well, and his travels often took him to Paris, the South of France, Lisbon, St. Moritz and home to his native London (he was a survivor of the Blitz). Other enthusiasms were Broadway theatre of all sorts, and cabaret. He frequented the original Feinstein's (and later 54 Below), The Cafe Carlyle, as well as dozens of other cabaret venues and was a regular patron at the yearly Cabaret Convention (and assorted  annual talent showcases) at Town Hall and Lincoln Center. Andrew could usually be found in the audience at any K.T. Sullivan or Marilyn Maye performance.

When Andrew's health deteriorated in his early '80s and curtailed his enjoyment of the city, he moved to the Osborne Retirement Home in Rye, NY, where he died peacefully in his sleep on Feb 1st, 2016.
 

Contact DPC here.