Rachel “Bunny” Mellon: Heiress and garden designer who found herself caught up in the John Edwards contributions scandal

 

Rachel “Bunny” Mellon was the heiress to the Listerine fortune who married the arts patron and philanthropist Paul Mellon. A confidante of Jacqueline Kennedy, she redesigned the White House Rose Garden. The Mellons donated more than 1,000 objects to the National Gallery of Art, including paintings by Cezanne, Degas and van Gogh.

Despite her social connections and contributions to the cultural life of Washington, Mellon took care to remain low-key. “Nothing should be noticed,” she said in 1969. She was referring to the garden she had created at her Fauquier estate, where terraces, arbors and stonework formed a powerful, restrained design. But she might have been describing her own life.

At 101, she found herself drawn into the legal battle of John Edwards, the former US senator and presidential aspirant charged with violating campaign finance laws. Edwards was tried in 2012 on charges that he took nearly $1m in illegal contributions from wealthy donors to support his mistress, Rielle Hunter, and conceal her from voters during his 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination. Prosecutors attributed more than $700,000 to Mellon.

Mellon, who was not accused of breaking any laws, was entranced by the charismatic Edwards and wanted to help his quest for the presidency after he was criticised for having a $400 haircut. He dropped out of the race in 2008 and in 2012 was acquitted of one charge, while the Justice Department decided not to retry him on five others. Mellon was ensnared in another case in 2010, a victim of a $59m Ponzi scheme created by the Kenneth Starr, who used $5.75m of her money to buy an apartment.

Mellon had properties in Washington, New York, Cape Cod and Antigua, but lived mostly on the couple’s Fauquier County estate, where Paul Mellon ran his horse-breeding stable and she designed and cultivated gardens of supreme elegance. The estate, the size of Fairfax City, includes a landing strip for private aircraft.

In his 2012 memoir Dropped Names the actor Frank Langella, a long-standing friend, wrote about the Edwards episode. “ ‘Well I suppose it’s my own damn fault,’ she told me, ‘he was so attractive. White shirt, white pants, sleeves rolled up. And you know I’m weak on good looks.’” 

Rachel Lowe Lambert, garden designer: born Princeton, New Jersey 9 August 1910; married 1932 Stacy Barcroft Lloyd, Jr (divorced 1946), 1948 Paul Mellon (died 1999); died Upperville, Virginia 17 March 2014.

© The Washington Post

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