Paul and Rachel Mellon, both well-known patrons of the arts, entertained First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, left, at the National Gallery of Art. Rachel Mellon died on her estate in Virginia on Monday at 103.
New York Times,
Philanthropist Rachel Mellon was known for her love of gardening, as well as her political connections.
Fred R. Conrad • New York Times,
Obituary: Rachel Mellon, arts patron who resdesigned White House Rose Garden
- Article by: Adrian Higgins
- Washington Post
- March 17, 2014 - 8:24 PM
Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, the Listerine fortune heiress who married arts patron and philanthropist Paul Mellon, was a confidante of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and redesigned the White House Rose Garden, died Monday at her home in Upperville, Va. She was 103.
The Mellons donated more than 1,000 objects to the National Gallery of Art, including paintings by Cezanne, Degas and van Gogh.
Despite her social connections and contributions to the cultural life of Washington, Mellon was publicity-averse and took great care to remain low-key. “She was a marvelously shy person,” said architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, a friend who worked with her on various projects at her many homes.
At 101, she found herself improbably drawn into the legal battle of John Edwards, the former U.S. senator and presidential aspirant charged with violating campaign finance laws.
Edwards was tried in 2012 on charges that he took nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions from wealthy donors to support his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and conceal her from voters during his 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Prosecutors attributed more than $700,000 to Mellon and $200,000 to Texas lawyer Fred Baron.
Mellon, who was not accused of breaking any laws, was entranced by the charismatic Edwards and wanted to help his quest for the presidency, according to witnesses in the case. On May 30, 2012, a federal jury acquitted Edwards of one charge, and the judge declared a mistrial on the remaining five charges.
Late in life, Mellon also found herself ensnared in another legal case: In 2010, she was one of several victims of a $59 million Ponzi scheme created by New York investment adviser Kenneth Starr, who used $5.75 million of her money to buy an apartment.
The cases represented a departure for Mellon, who with her husband preferred to live a courtly life that navigated away from the shoals of ostentation, family scandal, legal controversy, media attention and celebrity. To the extent that she otherwise embraced the world of politics, it was as a friend to Jacqueline Kennedy, who turned to her in the 1950s as a young senator’s wife in need of friendship and guidance in Washington society.
Mellon had properties in Washington, New York, Cape Cod and Antigua in the West Indies, but she lived mostly on the couple’s 4,000-acre Fauquier County estate, where Paul Mellon ran his horse-breeding stable and she designed and cultivated elegant gardens. Paul Mellon died in 1999, at 91.
Mellon had a deep interest in interior design and architecture, and she became a hands-on patron of the designers she hired. But her primary interest was in gardening and landscape design.
Rachel Lowe Lambert was born in New York on Aug. 9, 1910, into a family that had made its fortune producing Listerine mouthwash. Her father, Gerard, was president of the Gillette Safety Razor Co. Her mother, also named Rachel, nicknamed her “Bunny,” which stuck.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked her to redesign and improve the existing rose garden, which had been essentially untouched since 1913.
Working with the landscape architect Perry Wheeler, she designed the new West Garden, or Rose Garden. After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Mellon carried out a redesign of the Rose Garden’s counterpart on the southeast side of the White House. At her insistence, the East Garden was dedicated to Jacqueline Kennedy.
“Jacqueline was an old and true and loyal friend of mine a long time before she went in the White House,” Mellon said in the 1969 Times interview.
© 2014 Star Tribune