Lily Safra

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Lily Safra (née Watkins) is a Brazilian philanthropist and socialite who attained considerable wealth through her four marriages. By March 2013, her net worth was estimated at $1.2 billion,[1] ranking her as one of the richest people in the world according to Forbes. Safra has a significant art collection and is the owner of the historic Villa Leopolda on the French Riviera.[2]


Safra was born Lily Watkins [3] on December 30, 1934, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, daughter of Wolf White Watkins, a Czechoslovakian railway engineer who moved to South America and Annita Noudelman de Castro, a Uruguayan of Russian-Jewish ancestry.[4]:17f She grew up in Rio de Janeiro but moved to Uruguay where, at the age of 17, she met and married, Mario Cohen, an Argentine hosiery magnate of Italian-Jewish descent.[5] They had three children: Claudio (who died in a car crash together with his three-year-old son in Brazil ca. 1989.[6]), Eduardo, and Adriana.

Lily and Cohen divorced in the early 1960s. In 1965, she married Alfredo "Freddy" Monteverde,[7] (formerly Greenberg)[8]), a Romanian Jewish immigrant who fled Europe in 1939,[5] and a leader in the Brazilian household appliance distribution business where he established the Ponto Frio brand. He and Lily adopted a child, named Carlos. In 1969, Monteverde died by suicide.[9] According to biographer Isabel Vincent, Monteverde's will left all his assets to her and one month after her husband's death, she moved to London, where Monteverde’s banker, Edmond Safra, helped her secure control over her late husband’s entire fortune.[5] She dated Safra for some time but the romance ended after her family, of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, did not approve of her relationship with Safra, who was of Sephardic Jewish descent.[5] In 1972, she married businessman Samuel Bendahan, a Sephardic Jew.[5] They separated after two weeks and she divorced him after one year of marriage.[5][8]

In 1976, she married Edmond Safra, a prominent Brazilian-naturalized Jewish Lebanese banker, and the founder, among other achievements, of Republic National Bank of New York. The couple divided their time between homes in Monaco, Geneva, New York and the Villa Leopolda on the French Riviera. In a crime that attracted extensive media interest, Safra was killed in a fire that was determined to be arson.[10] Edmond Safra "apparently felt so safe here that he did not have his bodyguards stay the night when he slept in Monaco".[11] Ted Maher, a former Green Beret, who was Safra's bodyguard and nurse, was accused of starting the fire. His lawyer, Michael Griffith, has said that Maher did indeed start the fire in order to gain acceptance from Mr. Safra and that "It was a stupid, most insane thing a human being could do,” says Griffith. “He did not intend to kill Mr. Safra. He just wanted Mr. Safra to appreciate him more. He loved Mr. Safra. This was the best job of his life.”[12] However, controversy still surrounds the case, as after his 8-year imprisonment, Maher has maintained his innocence. Safra left 50% of his assets to several charities, with the remainder divided up between his family members and wife who received $800 million.[13][14]

Philanthropy and art collection[edit]

Safra supports numerous foundations, organizations, and charities. Together with Edmond Safra and Nina Weiner, Safra founded the International Sephardic Education Foundation in 1977. She chairs The Edmond J. Safra Foundation [15] which supports medical research and humanitarian relief. The Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics has been established at Harvard, most recently she donated over $12 million to create a cross-disciplinary research laboratory on institutional corruption.[16] She supports the American Red Cross and helped the Hurricane Katrina victims; she is on the board of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's research and a member of the Chairman's Council of the Museum of Modern Art.[17] Through the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, she helped found the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities at the University of Haifa.[18] The Foundation and Mrs. Safra also helped create the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences at the Hebrew University.[19]

Safra ensured the completion of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in Manhattan.[20]

In connection with the sale of furniture and art from her collection at Sotheby’s in 2005, Mrs. Safra donated $3 million to charities in New York she and her husband had supported for many years, along with a gift to Dillard University in New Orleans to help them rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.[21] Sotheby's announced that an auction of Mr. and Mrs. Safra's collections, including furniture, artwork, silverware, and decorative objects, took place in October 2011 in New York City.[22][23]

In 2009, she was honored by the Elton John AIDS Foundation with its “An Enduring Vision” award for her long-time support.[24] In October 2013, Safra donated $1 million in support of the foundation's grant-making programs.[25]

That same year, Safra contributed $16 million toward Edmond and Lily Safra Children's Hospital in Tel Hashomer. She also donated $5 million toward the One Laptop Per Child project.[26]

She established the Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge,[27] for patients battling illnesses, as well as their families, at the National Institute of Health near Washington D.C.

In July 2010, Safra donated 8 million euros to the Institute for Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries in Paris.[28]

In the same year, she promised the Claude Pompidou Foundation a donation of 7 million euros for the construction and completion of the Claude Pompidou Institute for Alzheimer’s research and treatment in the city of Nice, France. The Institute was inaugurated and welcomed its first patients in 2014.[29]

Safra is a Patron of Hope and Homes for Children in the UK [30] and a supporter of its work for children in Romania [31]

L'Homme qui marche I, a life-sized bronze sculpture of a man, was acquired by Lily Safra becoming one of the most expensive works of art and the most expensive sculpture ever when she bought it at Sotheby's auction in London for £65 million (US$104.3 million) on February 3, 2010.[32][33]

In May 2012, Christie’s Geneva hosted an auction of 70 pieces of Safra’s personal jewelry collection. The Jewels for Hope sale included 18 pieces by JAR, the largest personal collection designed by the jeweler ever to be sold.[34] The entire profits from the sale were donated to 32 charitable institutions around the world in the fields of healthcare, education, religion and culture, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Hope and Homes for Children in Romania.[35]

Empress Bianca[edit]

Lady Colin Campbell published a novel Empress Bianca, that was declared by Safra's lawyer to be "defamatory". Reacting to legal threat the publisher, Arcadia Books, withdrew the book after its publication in the United Kingdom and destroyed its unsold copies.[4]:265f A revision of the book was later published in the US.[4]:265f


  • Legion d'honneur, Officier (2011)[36]
  • King's College London, Honorary Fellow[4]:287f
  • Honorary chair, International Sephardic Education Foundation.[37]
  • Honorary Doctorate from Haifa University [18]
  • Courtauld Institute of Art, Honorary Fellow [38]
  • Honorary Doctorate from Imperial College London [39]
  • Honorary Doctorate from Brandeis University [40]


  1. ^ "Lily Safra". Forbes. Retrieved 30 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "The World's Most Expensive Billionaire Homes". Forbes. Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  3. ^ "Gilded Lily faces her husband's 'killer'". The Daily Telegraph (London). 22 November 2002. 
  4. ^ a b c d Isabel Vincent (2010). Gilded Lily. Lily Safra: The Making of One of the World's Wealthiest Widows. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-113393-0. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "The billionaire's widow". 2010-07-29. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  6. ^ The Mail on Sunday, 21 September 2008
  7. ^ Uri Dan (December 5, 1999). "Widow's life full of tragic heartbreak". The New York Post. Retrieved April 12, 2008. 
  8. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  9. ^ The Mail on Sunday, "Reissued in America: the murder plot novel that was pulped over feud with Gilded Lily", 21 September 2008
  10. ^ "Billionaire's mysterious death in Monte Carlo - Dateline NBC - International | NBC News". 2008-03-23. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  11. ^ Daley, Suzanne (7 December 1999). "Nurse Is Said to Admit Arson That Killed Banker in Monaco". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Murder In Monaco: An American On Trial". CBS News. 8 July 2003. 
  13. ^ [2][dead link]
  14. ^ [3][dead link]
  15. ^ "Edmond J. Safra Foundation - Home". 2014-12-19. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  16. ^ Kaplan, Thomas (19 October 2010). "With Gift, Harvard to Study Institutional Corruption". The New York Times. 
  17. ^ [4][dead link]
  18. ^ a b Trackback URI (2009-06-03). "University of Haifa » Mrs Lily Safra, founding benefactor of the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities at the University of Haifa, receives an honorary doctorate". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  19. ^ "Division For Advancement & External Relations". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  20. ^ "Safra Synagogue, an island at the center of the world", article by Jared Harary, Jewish Image Magazine, March 1st 2010
  21. ^ “3M GIFTS BY WIDOW” by PAUL H.B. SHIN; 15 October 2005; New York Daily News
  22. ^ "Safra collections sale expected to raise $40 million". Reuters. 20 June 2011. 
  23. ^ [5][dead link]
  24. ^ "I'm Still Standing: Slimline Elton John makes first appearance since illness". Daily Mail (London). 18 November 2009. 
  25. ^ Cimarusti, Nicholas. "Philanthropist Gives $1 Million to Elton John AIDS Foundation". Retrieved 13 November 2013. 
  26. ^ Sadeh, Shuki (17 March 2013). "How foreign donors reshaped Israel: A who's who". Haaretz. Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  27. ^ "NIH Clinical Center: Family Lodge". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  28. ^ "COMUNICADO: Unprecedented Donation Made by Mrs. Lily Safra to the Institute for Brain and Spinal Cord Disorders in Paris" (in Spanish). 2010-07-08. Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  29. ^ "Villa Léopolda : Lily Safra fait don de 39 M€ de caution | Villefranche-sur-Mer". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  30. ^ "Hope and Homes for Children | Who we are". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  31. ^ "Ne pare rău, pagina solicitată nu există!". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  32. ^ "Giacometti sculpture fetches £65m at Sotheby's auction". BBC News. February 5, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  33. ^ Deirde Wollard (March 1, 2011). "Lily Safra Named As Byer Of World's Most Expensive Sculpture". Luxist. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  34. ^ Christie’s (2012-03-29). "Release: Jewels For Hope : The Collection Of Mrs Lily Safra | Press Release | Christie'S". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  35. ^ "Record breaking charity jewellery auction brings change for children in Romania". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  36. ^ "Lily Safra | The Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  37. ^ "HostGator Web Hosting Website Startup Guide". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  38. ^ "The Courtauld Institute of Art : Newsletter Archive". Retrieved 2015-05-28. 
  39. ^ [6][dead link]
  40. ^ [7][dead link]

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