Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Beth Rudin DeWoody

I’ve known Beth DeWoody since she was a young girl just out of college (UC-Santa Barbara). We met thirty years ago through a man who is a close (and now lifelong) friend of both of us and have been close friends ever since. Thanks to her — she is one of those people who keeps in touch and keeps things moving. I’ve seen her evolve from a young university student to young wife and mother to an influential force in cultural life here in New York where she participates in many causes, and has myriad friends of all types, sizes, sensibilities and interests — all of which she shares with everyone she knows in one way or another.

Daughter of the late real estate magnate and the great proponent of New York City, Lewis Rudin, she joined the family real estate firm early on and presided over her grandfather Samuel Rudin’s philanthropic foundation. The Rudin family are major donors to many of the city’s institutions, from schools and hospitals to the arts and municipal causes such as the parks. They were the original supporters of the New York City Marathon back when “marathons” were new and rare (the winning trophy is named after Sam Rudin). In the dark financial days of the city in the mid 1970s, Lewis Rudin was the man who proposed that the real estate owners pay their taxes in advance to help the city’s finances, and started the Association for a Better New York (known as ABNY) and now headed by his son, Beth’s brother, Bill Rudin.

I recount these family activities because Beth quite naturally, and her brother (who is a few years younger) took on the mantle of their father and his civic interests, and along with her uncle Jack Rudin, became very much a part of it all. I can’t think of any major philanthropy that she hasn’t had direct and important participation in.

As an individual she has always been attracted to creative people and in a variety of ways has been a patron to many. When I came back to New York from living in California for a number of years and in very tentative financial and professional shape, she literally took me in and shared her life with me. I became a member of her family, living in her house for three years. It was she who also introduced me to Heather Cohane, the founder and then owner of Quest, who first hired me to write for the magazine. Although we had long been good friends, this kind of openness and generosity is characteristic of her. I am certain there are many whom I don’t know, have never met, who have been recipients of the same generosity.

She loves people and is most especially drawn to artists. She loves traveling. She makes friends wherever she goes and all of these friends know her in exactly the same way. She loves shopping. She loves collecting — art especially, but a wide variety of things from artifacts to furniture, to photography, to books to objets to vintage items, be they clothing or magazines.

As long as I’ve known her, she’s had a passionate eye for pace-setting collectibles, in some cases raising and refining what was once considered kitsch to a contemporary, post-modern art. Several years ago she acquired a couple of 50s-style houses in West Palm Beach (one for herself and one for her children) and a few months ago on a Sunday in the Style Section of the New York Times, there she was, in all her collector’s glory on the front page, sitting in her Beth DeWoody art-filled living room in West Palm. I had to laugh with joy at the sight of it, for to see her in those objective circumstances, was like seeing a whole life come together, perfectly expressed.

She’s been married (and divorced) twice — first to artist Jim DeWoody, father of her two children, son Carlton and daughter Kyle, both very bright young people who share many of their mother’s (and their father’s) interests. Growing up with their mother, which I witnessed first hand, now looks in retrospect a little like growing up with Auntie Mame. There was always activity, variety, people and movement. There still is. The only difference is that the young DeWoodys are now very much participants in their mother’s interests and activities (along with their own far-flung interests, all encouraged by mother) and travels.

Underneath an extremely social and congenial personality is a trenchant sense of resolve. It is a characteristic often found in women of lifelong independent means, not infrequently translating into something eccentric and even problematic. Some exercise it in ways that are the stuff of romantic novels and tabloidal literature, demonstrating a destructive willfulness in actualizing their wishes. Women like Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton are icons of its extremes. Not this lady. She loves change, she loves the new, but she is always grounded and conscious no matter the circumstances surrounding her. I’ve never known her to take a drink or even smoke a cigarette, let alone a joint or any other kind of stimulant, even coffee. She’s not necessarily early to bed at all times, but she’s “up and at ‘em” every morning pursuing her interests, her responsibilities and projects.

Between her travels to Florida, to her house in Southampton, to Europe or any other destination her interests may (and often do) lead, she’s always present in my life. Today I live around the corner from her New York apartment, and whether or not she’s in residence, like any good friend, her door is always open — whether it’s to use her laundry room in a pinch, to give a television interview, to put up family members on a rare visit or to use a shower if for some reason the water’s been turned off for repairs in my building. She’s always there, unwavering, loyal, never changing. This, I have lived long enough to discover, is a very rare quality, indeed precious, with value beyond calculation.