Rachel Lambert Mellon

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Rachel Lambert Mellon
Rachel Lowe Lambert

(1910-08-09)August 9, 1910
DiedMarch 17, 2014(2014-03-17) (aged 103)[1]
EducationFoxcroft School
Occupation(s)Horticulturalist, art collector, philanthropist
Known forRedesigned White House Rose Garden
(m. 1932; div. 1946)

(m. 1948; died 1999)

Rachel Lambert "Bunny" Mellon (August 9, 1910 – March 17, 2014) was an American horticulturalist, gardener, philanthropist, and art collector. She designed and planted a number of significant gardens, including the White House Rose Garden, and assembled one of the largest collections of rare horticultural books. Mellon was the second wife of philanthropist and horse breeder Paul Mellon.


Rachel Lowe Lambert, nicknamed Bunny by her mother, was the eldest child of Gerard Barnes Lambert, president of the Gillette Safety Razor Company and a founder of Warner–Lambert, and his wife, Rachel Parkhill Lowe.[2][3] Her paternal grandfather, chemist Jordan Lambert, was the inventor of Listerine, which was later marketed by her father.[4] She had a brother and a sister: Gerard Barnes Lambert, Jr. (1912–1947; married Elsa Cover), who died in a 1947 plane crash,[5][6] and Lily McCarthy (1914–2006; married twice, to William Wilson Fleming and John Gilman McCarthy, respectively).

Lambert attended Miss Fine's School (Princeton, New Jersey) and the Foxcroft School (Middleburg, Virginia).[7] Her parents divorced in 1933, and both subsequently remarried.

On November 25, 1932, Lambert married Stacy Barcroft Lloyd Jr. of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, at Trinity Church, Princeton.[8] He served in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. They divorced in 1948. They had two children: Stacy Barcroft Lloyd III, and Eliza Winn Lloyd. Eliza predeceased her mother.[9]

Lambert and her first husband became close friends of the banking heir and art collector Paul Mellon and his first wife, Mary Conover, who died of an asthma attack in 1946. After Lambert divorced Lloyd, she and Paul Mellon were married on May 1, 1948.[10] By this marriage, she became the stepmother of Timothy Mellon and Catherine Conover Mellon (later Mrs. John Warner and now known as Catherine Conover). Together, the couple collected and donated more than a thousand works of art, mostly eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European paintings, to the National Gallery of Art and established the Yale Center for British Art.[11][12] The couple bred and raced thoroughbred horses, including Sea Hero, winner of the 1993 Kentucky Derby.[13]

Mellon was long known for her maximal discretion and minimal public exposure; she offered only a handful of interviews to journalists in her lifetime.[10] In a 1969 New York Times article with the Mellons, she proclaimed that "nothing should be noticed."[14] Although this remark was made in reference to garden design, it has frequently been taken to encapsulate her attitude toward personal privacy and lifestyle choices.[15][16]

Gardening career[edit]

The White House Rose Garden after Mellon's landscaping

Although she had no formal training, Mellon read widely in horticulture and made contributions to several landmark gardens. Her interests in gardening were first cultivated while watching Olmsted Brothers gardeners tend her family's New Jersey home.[17] Mellon amassed a large collection of horticultural books and was regarded as an authority on American horticulture.[11] Her work was strongly influenced by French gardeners André Le Nôtre and Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie.[17][10]

Mellon designed landscapes for many of the Mellons' properties, including the French-inspired gardens of their estate, Oak Spring Farms.[10][17] A longtime friendship with the Kennedy family was initiated by a 1958 visit to Oak Spring Farms by Jacqueline Kennedy, whom Mellon later advised on fine arts and antiques during the Kennedy White House restoration.[18][10][19]

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked Mellon to redesign the White House Rose Garden.[18] Mellon created more open space for public ceremonies and introduced American species of plants, as well as Magnolia soulangeana. She next began to work on the White House's East Garden, but her work was interrupted by Kennedy's assassination. After his funeral, for which Mellon arranged flowers, Lady Bird Johnson asked Mellon to resume her work on the White House grounds.[19][20] Mellon completed her work on the garden in close collaboration with Irvin Williams who, among other responsibilities, she tasked with finding and introducing magnolia trees to the garden. Initially blocked from doing so by the National Park Service, Williams secretly removed the trees from the Tidal Basin and transported them to the White House himself.[21]

After Jacqueline Kennedy left the White House, Mellon was asked to design landscapes for Kennedy's home in Martha's Vineyard, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, and River Farm, the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society.[17] In France, Mellon created a landscape design for the home of Hubert de Givenchy and assisted with a restoration of the potager du Roi in Versailles.[10][17]

Wealth and collections[edit]

As most of her assets were invested in trusts, it was difficult to estimate Mellon's wealth, but her family and husband's fortune and fixed assets suggest she was exceptionally wealthy.[22]

She maintained homes in Antigua, Nantucket and Oyster Harbors, Cape Cod, two apartments in Paris, and a townhouse in New York City. These properties were sold in the years preceding her death.[4][23] Her main residence, Oak Spring Farms, was a 4,000-acre (1,600 ha) estate in Virginia, that had its own 1-mile (1,600 m) long airstrip to accommodate her Falcon 2000.[10][22]

Mellon gathered a sizable collection of works by artist Mark Rothko, having purchased many of his 1950s works directly from his New York studio. In a 2010 interview, she spoke of having purchased a total of thirteen works by Rothko. One of the works, No. 20 (Yellow Expanse), completed in 1955 was considered one of the largest Rothko works in private hands.[10][24] The painting measured 10 by 15 feet.[25]

On November 10, 2014, items from Mellon's collection of paintings, jewelry, furniture, and decorative objects were auctioned at Sotheby's in New York for a total of $158.7 million, including Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange) by Rothko, which sold for $36.5 million, and another Rothko that went for $39.9 million.[26] Three of her most important paintings, two by Rothko and one by Richard Diebenkorn, were sold privately before the Sotheby's auction for a reported $250 million.[25] Proceeds from the sales benefited the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation, a charitable entity established by Mellon in memory of her father.[27]


Later years[edit]

Mellon's second husband, Paul Mellon, died in 1999, aged 91.[28] Shortly thereafter, in May 2000, her daughter Eliza was hit by a truck while crossing a Manhattan street, causing a severe brain injury and full-body paralysis. Eliza spent the remaining eight years of her life under round-the-clock care at Oak Spring Farms, and died in 2008.[4][29] Caroline Kennedy, daughter of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, sat beside Mrs. Mellon during the funeral.[14]

Mellon was a long-time Democrat whose political views often conflicted with those of her husband.[10] In 2004, she expressed interest in presidential candidate John Edwards because he reminded her of President Kennedy, but when she called his campaign office with an offer to help, her name was not recognized and the call went unreturned.[30]: 157  She was an early financier of Edwards' 2008 Democratic primary run, offering an initial US$1 million commitment to his campaign, and eventually contributing more than $3.5 million to organizations supporting his candidacy.[4][30]: 158 

At the request of campaign operative Andrew Young, the commitment morphed to include underwriting Edwards' personal expenses. Beginning in May 2007, Mellon contributed more than $725,000 to John Edwards' personal accounts over an eight-month period, writing checks disguised as furniture purchases.[31] During this period Mellon wrote a note to Young stating: "from now on, all haircuts, etc. that are necessary and important for his campaign—please send the bills to me... It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions."[32] The funds were secretly used to support Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer with whom Edwards had an extra-marital affair and child. When Mellon became aware of the use of her funds for this purpose, she reportedly came to regret the donations, but maintained that Edwards "would have been a great president."[4][31] While investigating Edwards, the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed Mellon at Oak Spring on two occasions in 2010.[14] In December 2010, four of her relatives were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.[33]

On June 3, 2011, Edwards was indicted on using campaign funds to help cover up an affair and pregnancy during the 2008 presidential campaign. Just one week prior to his indictment, in late May 2011, Edwards visited Mellon at her Upperville estate.[34] Following his indictment, the judge forbade Edwards to speak with any potential witnesses.

In 2010, it was reported that Mellon had lost $5.75 million to investment adviser and convicted Ponzi scheme operator Kenneth I. Starr.[15]


Described as a resilient centenarian, a bout with cancer[35] and ongoing macular degeneration nonetheless slowed her activity. She was forced to give up gardening by 2011, although she continued to swim, do Pilates, and give the rare interview.[4][14]

On March 17, 2014, Mellon died at her Upperville, Virginia, home of natural causes. She was 103 years old.[7][36] Her funeral was held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville, which the Mellons had gifted to the community in 1960. She was eulogized by her friend Frank Langella, who described himself as "a rough Jersey kid" whom Mellon taught "how to listen, dress, never be vulgar, respect all people, be humble, avoid hubris, write thank-you notes, never boast, be curious and 'above all, be loyal'". Her grandson, Stacy Lloyd IV, remembered Mellon as "Granbunny" and how she taught him to find beauty in everything. Her friend Bette Midler performed her hit song The Rose.[37]


  1. ^ Alexander, Dan (March 17, 2014). "Rachel 'Bunny' Mellon, Banking Heiress And Jacqueline Kennedy Friend, Dies At 103". Forbes. Retrieved March 19, 2014.
  2. ^ New England Historic Genealogical Society Nexus. Vol. 4–5. New England Historic Genealogical Society. 1987.
  3. ^ Miller, Stephen (March 17, 2014). "Rachel 'Bunny' Mellon Dies at 103". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Gordon, Meryl (July 25, 2011). "Bunny Mellon, the Secret-Keeper". Newsweek. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  5. ^ "List of Dead in Plane Crash". The Los Angeles Times. October 25, 1947. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  6. ^ "Obituary: Gerard Barnes Lambert, Jr". Alumni Horae. St. Paul's School. 27 (3): 110. Autumn 1947. Archived from the original on March 18, 2014. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  7. ^ a b McFadden, Robert D. (March 17, 2014). "Rachel Mellon, Heiress Known for Garden Designs, Is Dead at 103". The New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  8. ^ "Milestones, December 5, 1932". Time. December 5, 1932. Archived from the original on October 27, 2010. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  9. ^ Eliza married photographer Henry Dermot Ponsonby "Derry" Moore in 1968 and divorced him in 1972. On the death of his father in 1989, he became the 12th Earl of Drogheda. After her divorce, Eliza Winn Lloyd used the name Eliza Lambert Lloyd, but her wedding announcement in The New York Times in 1968 called her Eliza W. Lloyd, and news articles about her coming out in 1961 referred to her as Eliza Winn Lloyd. Her obituary in The New York Times, however, referred to her as Eliza Lloyd Moore.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reginato, James (August 2010), "Bunny Mellon's Secret Garden", Vanity Fair, retrieved June 6, 2011
  11. ^ a b Higgins, Adrian (March 17, 2014). "Rachel 'Bunny' Mellon, arts patron and confidante of Jackie Kennedy, dies at 103". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  12. ^ "Paul Mellon, Founder". Yale Center for British Art. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  13. ^ Paul Mellon: In his Own Words; accessed June 5, 2012.
  14. ^ a b c d Seelye, Katherine Q. (June 4, 2011), "Edwards Case Casts Spotlight on a Long Reclusive Donor", The New York Times, retrieved March 17, 2014
  15. ^ a b Trebay, Guy (May 11, 2012). "The Last Empress". The New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  16. ^ Conroy, Sarah Booth (June 1, 1969). "The House in the Virginia Hunt Country That Is Home to the Paul Mellons". The New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  17. ^ a b c d e Deitz, Paula (2011). "The Private World of a Great Gardener: Rachel Lambert Mellon". Of Gardens: Selected Essays. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 28–32. ISBN 978-0812206968. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  18. ^ a b Gordon, Meryl (September 22, 2017). "How Bunny Mellon Re-invented the White House Rose Garden". Vanity Fair. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  19. ^ a b Mellon, Rachel Lambert (2001). "Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy: A Reminiscence". In O'Neill, John P.; Holt, Joan; Bernstein, Jennifer (eds.). Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years: Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 13–16. ISBN 9780870999819. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  20. ^ Johnson, Lady Bird (2007). A White House Diary. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. pp. 97–98. ISBN 9780292717497. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  21. ^ Seale, William (2015). "President Kennedy's Garden: Rachel Lambert Mellon's Redesign of the White House Rose Garden". White House History (38): 42.
  22. ^ a b O'Connor, Claire (June 3, 2011). "The Money Behind John Edwards: Heiress Rachel 'Bunny' Mellon, Age 100". Forbes. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  23. ^ "Mellon Estate in Antigua Goes on the Market for $14.5 Million". The Wall Street Journal. March 9, 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  24. ^ Seldes, Lee (1996). The legacy of Mark Rothko. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. pp. 230–35. ISBN 9780306807251.
  25. ^ a b Kazakina, Katya (September 5, 2014). "Bunny Mellon's $250 Million Rothkos Sold in Private Sale". Bloomberg. Retrieved November 30, 2014.
  26. ^ "Property from the Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon: Masterworks". sotheby's.com. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  27. ^ "Sotheby's to auction Paul and Bunny Mellon estate", nytimes.com; July 1, 2014; accessed August 22, 2014.
  28. ^ "Paul Mellon". The Economist. February 18, 1999. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  29. ^ "Death notice of Eliza Lloyd Moore". The New York Times. May 12, 2008. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  30. ^ a b Young, Andrew (2010). The Politician: An Insider's Account of John Edwards's Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down. Macmillan.
  31. ^ a b Dupre, William; Severson, Kim (May 4, 2012). "Liaison Says Heiress Rued Edwards Donations". New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  32. ^ United States of America v. Johnny Reid Edwards, 1:11 CR 161-1, 21 (M.D.N.C. June 3, 2011) ("The timing of your telephone call on Friday was "witchy". I was sitting alone in a grim mood - furious that the press attacked Senator Edwards on the price of a haircut. But it inspired me - from now on, all haircuts, etc., that are necessary and important for his campaign - please send the bills to me.... It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions.").
  33. ^ "Donor's family testifies in Edwards probe". United Press International. December 4, 2010. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  34. ^ Just, Sara (May 26, 2011). "John Edwards Meets Privately with Bunny Mellon, Potential Witness in Cover Up Case". ABC News. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  35. ^ Obituary, newsweek.com; accessed August 29, 2016.
  36. ^ Szkotak, Steve. "Arts patron, heiress Rachel 'Bunny' Mellon dead". Associated Press. Archived from the original on March 18, 2014. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  37. ^ Roberts, Roxanne. "At Bunny Mellon's funeral, music from Bette Midler and a John Edwards appearance". Washington Post. Retrieved November 30, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Abbott James A., and Elaine M. Rice. Designing Camelot: The Kennedy White House Restoration. Van Nostrand Reinhold: 1998; ISBN 0-442-02532-7.
  • Raphael, Sandra, Heins, Greg, Tomasi, Lucia Tongiorgi, and Willis, Tony. The Oak Spring Garden Library. 4 Vols. Yale University Press: 1989-2009.[ISBN missing]
  • Langella, Frank. Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them. HarperCollins: 2012; ISBN 9780062094483.

External links[edit]