Family, arts, nature driving forces in Rachel ‘Bunny’ Lambert Mellon’s life
For most of her 103 years, Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon kept secret the intimate details of her life.
Like her billionaire philanthropist husband, Paul Mellon, and close friend Jackie Kennedy, Bunny fiercely coveted privacy.
The renowned horticulturist and style icon who died in March mostly succeeded in skirting extensive media coverage, with two notable exceptions: She made headlines in 2008 when former U.S. Sen. John Edwards tried to use her $700,000 presidential campaign donation to hide his extramarital affair; and in 2010 during the indictment of financial adviser Kenneth I. Starr, who stole $7.5 million from her as part of a $59 million Ponzi scheme.
“I really think that took the wind out of her sails,” said Vanity Fair writer James Reginato, who visited her days after the Starr scandal emerged and found her warm demeanor noticeably muted. “She seemed considerably frailer than when I had seen her just a few months before.”
Bunny — whose mother, Rachel Parkhill Lowe, coined the nickname she never shook — was born into wealth in Princeton, N.J., and married into even more. In the late 1950s, Fortune magazine deemed the Mellon siblings and cousins, then worth as much as $700 million each, among the eight richest people in the nation.
Bunny's grandfather, Jordan Wheat Lambert, invented Listerine and founded Lambert Pharmacal, now part of Pfizer. Her father, Gerard Barnes Lambert, was president of Gillette.
Her second husband, the Mellon Bank heir, grew up in Shadyside. They were married from 1948 until his death at age 91 in 1999. They bred horses, including 1993 Kentucky Derby-winning Sea Hero, and Bunny enjoyed sailing and donating to charities promoting the arts, nature and science.
She had two children from her first marriage to Stacy B. Lloyd Jr. and two stepchildren with Paul.
In addition to Oak Spring Farms, a 4,000-acre Virginia estate, the Mellons kept homes in New York, Washington, Paris, Nantucket, Cape Cod and Antigua.
Bunny had squeezed in time for Reginato's visit during a week when she was busy planning her funeral and entertaining fellow gardening enthusiast Bette Midler.
“Maybe she was a recluse to the world at large, but she definitely had an active social life among a small number of friends,” Reginato said.
Even as she approached 100, Bunny kept busy doing Pilates daily, redecorating rooms and building a “memory house” in honor of her daughter, Eliza, for whom she provided care for eight years after a truck accident left her with a severe brain injury and full-body paralysis.
“Mrs. Mellon always had projects,” said Alex Forger, her friend and executor, “right up until the last week of her life.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or [email protected].