Saturday, August 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Rachel 'Bunny' Mellon, 103, arts patron

Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, 103, 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.

The Mellons donated more than 1,000 objects to the National Gallery of Art, including paintings by Cezanne, Degas and van Gogh. With Mrs. Mellon's sister and a family foundation, they also funded the construction of the gallery's East Building in the 1970s, designed by architect I.M. Pei.

Despite her social connections and contributions to the cultural life of Washington, Mrs. Mellon was publicity-averse and took great care to remain low-key. "Nothing should be noticed," she told the New York Times in 1969. She was referring to the garden she had created at Oak Spring, her Fauquier County estate, where terraces, arbors and stonework formed a powerful and restrained design. But she might have been describing her own life.

"She was a marvelously shy person," said architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, a friend who worked with her on various projects at her many homes. "She hated the public light and having her picture taken, and Paul was very protective of that."

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, a North Carolina Democrat, 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 Mrs. Mellon and $200,000 to Texas lawyer Fred Baron.

Mrs. Mellon, who was not accused of breaking any laws, was entranced by the charismatic Edwards and wanted to help his quest for the presidency after he was criticized during the campaign for having a $400 haircut, according to witnesses in the case. Edwards dropped out of the race in January 2008.

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.

Mrs. 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 gardens of supreme elegance. The estate, the size of Fairfax City, includes a landing strip for private aircraft. Paul Mellon died in 1999, at 91.

Adrian Higgins Washington Post
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