Roberta Brooke Astor died on August 13, 2007 at the age of 105; she was an American philanthropist, socialite, and writer.
Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on March 30, 1902, the only child of John Henry Russell, Jr. (1872–1947), the 16th Commandant of the Marine Corps, and his wife, Mabel Cecile Hornby Howard (1879–1967).
Her paternal grandfather John Henry Russell, Sr. was a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy.
In 1942, Brooke’s then-18-year-old son Tony changed his name to Anthony Dryden Marshall out of admiration for his stepfather.
Buddy’s financial fortunes turned in the mid-1940s, at which time Brooke went to work for eight years as a features editor at House & Garden magazine.
She also briefly worked for Ruby Ross Wood, a prominent New York interior decorator who, with her associate Billy Baldwin, decorated the Marshalls’ apartment at 1 Gracie Square in New York City.
She served as a Trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and chaired the Visiting Committee of the Metropolitan’s Department of Far Eastern Art; she is credited with the idea for a Chinese garden courtyard, the Astor Court, in the Metropolitan.
In addition, Astor served as a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 100th Anniversary Committee and hosted the Metropolitan’s Centennial Ball.
Despite liquidating the Vincent Astor Foundation in 1997, she continued to be active in charities and in New York’s social life.
The New York Public Library was always one of Astor’s favorite charities, as was The Animal Medical Center.
In 1988, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992.
During its time, the foundation awarded grants to numerous organizations, including the Bronx Zoo, as well as to efforts supporting social programs and other special projects in the New York City area.
In addition to the Vincent Astor Foundation, Astor served on the boards of many cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library.
Brooke had always taken good care of herself—weekly visits to her doctor and occasional rest cures in a hospital—and thanks to a super-strong heart she was in great physical shape for her age.
Should Tony, who had suffered several heart attacks and had a pacemaker, pre-decease her, Charlene would get precious little from an estate that would have two ex-wives and two sons to provide for, and nothing to expect from an exceedingly resentful mother-in-law.
According to prosecutors, Tony would therefore have to invoke the help of attorneys if he was going to lay hands on Brooke’s assets before she died.
On March 30, 2002, Brooke celebrated her 100th birthday.
Instead of using it as a pretext for a big public fund-raiser for her favourite charities, as her long-time adviser George Trescher had done on her 90th birthday, she opted for a smaller, more private party.
David Rockefeller suggested a dinner dance for 100 close friends in the beautifully appointed Play-House on the Rockefellers’ Pocantico estate.
Looking gracious albeit bemused, Brooke entered the room on the arms of her host and her favourite British in-law, Viscount (William) Astor, rather than her son, who was reportedly somewhat miffed.