Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon, a secluded heiress, patron of the arts, and a figure in John Edward’s presidential campaign scandal died today in Upperville, VA at 103. Her fortune came from her grandfather’s invention of Listerine, her father’s presidency in the Gillette Safety Razor Company, and her marriage to philanthropist Paul Mellon. She told the New York Times in 1969, she valued privacy above all else: “Nothing should be noticed.”
Avoiding notice for Mellon could only be maintained for so long. She became entwined in the John Edwards presidential campaign scandal. According to Bloomberg News, Mellon wrote to Andrew Young “I was sitting alone in a grim mood — furious that the press attacked Senator Edwards on the price of a haircut.” She then contributed $725,000 to Edwards as a personal gift or “a way to help our friend without government restrictions.” Edwards was indicted in 2012 for violating campaign finance laws by using the money to hide his pregnant mistress Rielle Hunter.
Her grandson, Lloyd told the the Associated Press that “she was trying to help (Edwards) for the right reasons, believed in him, and I think frankly he just took advantage of a lot of opportunities that she gave him.”
Vanity Fair writer James Reginato took a visit to the 4,000-acre Oak Springs Estate back in 2010. He described driving “down a good mile of winding road, lined with stone and wood fences, a rolling landscape unfolds with meticulously pruned oaks, willows, and sycamores. After passing an imposing red-brick Georgian-style mansion, we continue past a monumental bronze statue of Sea Hero, Mellon’s 1993 Kentucky Derby winner, until we reach a low-lying group of connected whitewashed stone cottages—a house which resembles a charming 18th-century French hamlet.”
Mellon and her husband had been long time collectors of artwork and paintings. Her husband wrote “we began going to public galleries and those of dealers in New York and abroad – out of interest, out of curiosity – for pleasure, relaxation, education.” The elaborate nature and privacy that the Upperville Oak Springs hopefully gave just the right amount of pleasure and relaxation before her death.
Image via National Gallery of Art