Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What a Week for Obituaries!

Here's another one with an interesting financial element:

Barbara Sears Rockefeller, Actress With a Famous Divorce Settlement, Dies at 91

Barbara Sears Rockefeller, a Pennsylvania coal miner’s daughter who married one of the richest men in America and, after their divorce six years later, won a settlement regarded as a record in its day, died on Monday at her home in Little Rock, Ark....

Mrs. Sears met Winthrop Rockefeller at a dinner party in 1946. At the time, she was living in Manhattan with her sister in a fourth-floor walkup hard by the Third Avenue El. Mr. Rockefeller, who had never married, was considered the most eligible bachelor in the country. He soon gave her a square-cut diamond set in platinum. She later pawned the ring, said to be worth $30,000, and lived on the proceeds for five years while waiting for her divorce settlement to come through, The Associated Press reported in 1966.

Mr. Rockefeller and Mrs. Sears planned to marry, perhaps inauspiciously, on Friday the 13th of February, 1948.

But because of the 72-hour waiting period then imposed by Florida law, the wedding, at the Palm Beach estate of the sportsman Winston Guest, took place just after midnight on Valentine’s Day. The guests at the reception included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The union of the miner’s daughter and the billionaire’s grandson was described widely in the news as a fairy tale straight from the pages of “Cinderella.” As Time magazine’s account said, “Bobo’s mother and stepfather, who were unable to attend the ceremony because they were making a batch of Lithuanian cheese on their Indiana farm, both announced that they were happy.”

But for Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller, there was no happily ever after, or even much of an “after.” They separated less than two years into their marriage.

Very public divorce proceedings ensued. Mr. Rockefeller offered his wife a settlement of $5.5 million. Mrs. Rockefeller requested $10 million instead. After all, she pointed out to Time magazine in 1954, a man had just tried to repossess her vacuum cleaner. She eventually took the $5.5 million.

For many years after her divorce, Mrs. Rockefeller lived on the Upper East Side in a six-story neoclassical townhouse that included a full-size, wood-lined squash court with an 18-foot ceiling. She also kept a home in Paris.

Mrs. Rockefeller, who did not marry again, learned early to economize, at least in the relative sense of the term. As The Associated Press reported in 1952, when she was already separated from her husband, Mrs. Rockefeller had a fail-safe tactic for striking a good bargain.

When a merchant demanded a price she considered too high, she would simply respond, “Who do you think I am, a Rockefeller?”

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