Monday, August 13, 2007

The Rich Are Not Like You and Me: Brooke Astor (1902-2007)

Brooke Astor (nee Roberta Brooke Russell) died in Westchester County, New York, today at age 105. The name will be familiar to those of a certain age (and not even close to 105!). It's not likely that we'll soon again see the type of "socialite" who could give away $200 million to support her favorite causes, big and small. She also wrote novels.

Brooke Russell was the only child of John Henry Russell (1872-1947) and Mabel Cecile Howard (1879-1967). Her father was a career Marine Corps officer who eventually reached the rank of Major General and became commandant of the Marine Corps. As a military family, the Russells traveled quite a bit--which may have foreshadowed Brooke's later life. New York passenger records, for example, show her arriving in New York from London with her parents in July, 1913, when she was eleven years old.

At sixteen, Brooke married John Dryden Kuser, a young man with East Coast political connections. New York passenger records show that the couple traveled abroad numerous times between 1920 and 1930, sometimes with his parents, Anthony and Susie Kuser. It appears that they may have visited her parents who were stationed in the Canal Zone and Haiti during that period.

The Kusers had one child and divorced in 1930.

Brooke married Charles Marshall, an investment banker, in 1932. She and her husband continued to travel frequently. New York passenger records show trips between 1934 and 1952, to such locations as Paris, Rome, Guatemala, Italy, and England.

Charles Marshall died in 1952.

In 1953, Brooke married Vincent Astor, scion of the old money New York Astors. Vincent's father, John Jacob Astor IV, had died in the Titanic disaster. Her travel seems to have slowed considerably during this marriage. Apparently, she made only two trips to France while married to Vincent. He died in 1959, whereupon Brooke took over his fortune and his philanthropy.

Her gifts to various charities are said to have been in excess of $200 million.

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