Style icon Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon, a private socialite who was best friends with Jackie Kennedy, lived by the principle that a woman’s name should only appear in print at birth, marriage and death.
Bunny lived by her rule of privacy, at least until 100 years of age, when the nearly blind woman was launched into a scandal that landed on front-page news in 2011.
She had unwittingly become the central figure in the trial of North Carolina senator John Edwards for violating campaign-finance laws.
The widow of banking heir and philanthropist Paul Mellon had given Edwards more than $725,000 for his 2008 presidential campaign – because he had reminded her of her dear friend John Fitzgerald ‘Jack’ Kennedy.
She had also contributed to his campaign because she disliked Hillary Clinton, who was running for president at the time as well, calling her an ‘old rag’ and ‘the elf’.
The wealthy woman was a close confident of the Kennedys, asked by JFK himself to design the White House’s iconic Rose Garden and was a source of support for Jackie after the president’s assassination in 1963.
Now, the once-private woman has details of her close friendship with Jackie, her work in Washington and extraordinary spending habits revealed in the upcoming book, Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend.
Style icon Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon was a private socialite and best friends with Jackie Kennedy. She soothed her friend after JFK was assassinated and encouraged her to remarry Aristotle Onassis. Pictured: Bunny and Jackie in 1961
The wealthy woman was a close confident of the Kennedys and was asked by JFK himself to design the White House’s iconic Rose Garden. Pictured: JFK and Bunny around 1961
Before the scandal with Edwards was revealed, the politician used Bunny as his personal ATM and spent all the money to hide his blonde mistress from public view.
Edwards phoned Bunny regularly after being encouraged by an aide to chat more often with her, believing that he could mine her vein of unlimited funds for himself.
Author of the upcoming book, Meryl Gordon, writes: ‘Bunny defiantly believed that John Edwards could do no wrong. Imbued by a sense of patriotism and a desire to be relevant [even at age 100] she saw this campaign as a chance to elect a liberal Democrat to the White House.’
In the book, it was revealed Bunny harbored an extreme dislike for Hillary Clinton after an encounter with the then-first lady in 1994 in the White House Rose Garden, which Bunny had personally designed at the request of President Kennedy.
Hillary was completely uninterested on viewing the design and roses outside of the Oval Office and bluntly remarked, ‘How very nice’, before abruptly walking away.
‘Bunny was steamed’, writes Gordon who had exclusive access to the legendary heiress’ private journals, letters and conducted interviews with more than 175 people.
Thereafter, Bunny called Hillary an ‘old rag’ and ‘the elf’.
Her blind support of Edwards also reflected her desire for Hillary not to win the Democratic nomination for president in her run in 2008.
Although Bunny shied away from the spotlight, she was thrust into the public eye when she was 100 years old for a scandal involving North Carolina senator John Edwards (right). He was under investigation for violating campaign-finance laws and Bunny had gave him $725,000 for his 2008 presidential run
Bunny also contributed to Edwards campaign because she disliked Hillary Clinton, who was also running at the time. It stemmed from an encounter when Clinton had dismissed her Rose Garden, so Bunny called her an ‘old rag’ and ‘the elf’. Pictured: Hillary and Bill Clinton in the Rose Garden in 1994
Bunny came from a wealthy background that was multiplied with the success of an antiseptic liquid refined by Dr. Joseph Lawrence of St. Louis in 1879, which later became known as Listerine.
Bunny, born Rachel Lowe Lambert, was nicknamed ‘Bunny’ by her mother because she looked like a baby bunny at birth but the young girl grew up believing she was an ugly duckling.
Her parents favored her younger, prettier sister, Lily, and Bunny turned to her maternal grandfather for affection and became transfixed with the beauty of nature.
‘As a child, wild flowers were part of my feeling of freedom—hidden under larger plants or creating fields of lavender thistles that colored the landscape like a sea in the wind,’ Bunny wrote.
When Bunny’s father decided to install a new garden on the grounds of their estate Albermarle in Princeton, New Jersey, he hired the sons of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who had designed Central Park and the US Capital Grounds.
The Olmsted sons, who had designed the grounds for the National Mall and the Jefferson Memorial, came to work at Bunny’s home and she trailed after the designers, asking questions and studying their plans.
Bunny was introduced to Jackie Kennedy in 1957 by a mutual friend and they soon realized they were soul mates, remaining close all their lives
Bunny, born Rachel Lowe Lambert, was nicknamed ‘Bunny’ by her mother because she looked like a baby bunny at birth but the young girl grew up believing she was an ugly duckling. She was married to banking heir and philanthropist Paul Mellon (pictured together in 1971)
Garden design became one of Bunny’s great loves and she developed an extraordinary talent for creating outdoor landscapes and floral arrangements.
Bunny was introduced to Jackie Kennedy in 1957 by a mutual friend and they soon realized they were soul mates.
‘Even though Bunny was nineteen years older than Jackie – and only four years younger than Jackie’s formidable mother, Janet Auchincloss – the two women bonded as if they were contemporaries, each thrilled to have found a trustworthy confidante’, writes Gordon.
Jackie’s own sister, Lee Radziwill, said Bunny was more like a ‘sister’. They had a secret rapport.
‘Both loved art and fashion and ballet and all things French. They could tease each other and tell each other the truth’.
‘God, you can imagine what a funny girl, she would make you laugh’, Bunny said of Jackie. ‘She’s very, very bright’.
Bunny became a frequent visitor at the Kennedy White House ‘advising Jackie on decorating the white elephant of a mansion and arranging flowers for state dinners’.
JFK asked Bunny ‘to create the perfect outdoor stage set as the backdrop for his presidency, and every president to come’. Pictured: John F. Kennedy Jr. in the Rose Garden
Jackie gushed over the completed Rose Garden and made a scrapbook commemorating Bunny’s work with candid family photos of their time in the garden. Pictured: The famed garden outside of the Oval Office in 1963
Jackie, JFK, Caroline and John Jr would spend summer weekends at their family compound in Hyannis Port, on Cape Cod, and would often cruise by boat over to Bunny’s 7,000 square foot estate in Osterville, Massachusetts.
It was during one of these summer weekends that Bunny’s morning was interrupted when she got a call from Jackie in August of 1961.
‘Jack’s going to ask you to do something for him, promise me that you will do it’, Jackie said. ‘He wants you to design a garden for him at the White House’.
‘Outside his office,’ Jackie stated and quickly hung up.
John, Jackie and Caroline sailed over to Bunny’s and in a private chat, John asked her ‘to create the perfect outdoor stage set as the backdrop for his presidency, and every president to come’.
‘He envisioned not just a garden, but rather an American symbol that would be an elegant and welcoming vista’.
At the time it looked ‘so forlorn and outdated’.
Jackie gushed over the completed Rose Garden and made a scrapbook commemorating Bunny’s work with candid family photos of their time in the garden.
Jackie told her dearest friend that her husband’s happiest times in the White House was spent in her garden. ‘He will always be remembered’ she wrote Bunny – for creating such a glorious garden – ‘as you will too’
During its construction, gardeners cut a cord that connected the Oval Office to the Strategic Arms Command, which was the communication link allowing the president to launch a nuclear war. Pictured: Work on the garden in 1962
Jackie included letters, dried flowers and touching commentary describing her best friend’s adventures while working on the project and presented it to her as a Christmas present.
However, it wasn’t all easy. There was one frightening moment when gardeners cut a cord that connected the Oval Office to the Strategic Arms Command, which was the communication link allowing the president to launch a nuclear war.
That errant slice put the country briefly on nuclear war alert.
Jackie told her dearest friend that her husband’s happiest times in the White House was spent in her garden. ‘He will always be remembered’ she wrote Bunny – for creating such a glorious garden – ‘as you will too’.
Jackie knew how much Bunny disliked publicity but remained a devoted friend while subjected to ‘that terrible spotlight that is the onus of our friendship.’
‘If you ever just fade away into the mist, I will understand’, Jackie told her.
But Bunny wasn’t going to fade away, instead she remained a fixture of the socialite community.
The woman always needed new ball gowns, attending so many social events. Her entire wardrobe was couture, designed Balenciaga and Givenchy.
She often flew to Paris for fittings, spending untold thousands of dollars annually on the European designers’ creations. Bunny’s lifestyle cost her about $20million a year.
Bunny could not go to bed in the evening if she hadn’t bought something.
Bunny often flew to Paris for fittings, spending untold thousands of dollars annually on the European designers’ creations. Bunny’s lifestyle cost her about $20million a year
Bunny lived to be 103 years old in March 2014 when she died of natural causes at her home in Upperville, Virginia
‘She knew the value of everything and the price of nothing’, the book states.
She loved the designs of jeweler Schlumberger and a director at Tiffany’s stated that ‘Bunny wanted to possess virtually every design that the jeweler created but often did not bother to take her purchases home.
‘We kept them in a suitcases for her in the safe,’ Pierce MacGuire stated. ‘She was a collector’.
After her death, her grandson Thomas Lloyd and his wife, Rickie Niceta, visited Sotheby’s to see what Bunny had kept in storage.
‘There was case after case, forty Rolex watches, bracelets, purses, rings,’ Rickie stated.’
‘I felt like there had been a true hole in her heart, and she was desperate to fill it. She tried to fill the void by buying all that stuff. It made me so sad’.
The Mellons owned five houses and had a payroll of nearly 200 people, including butlers, cooks, laundresses, maids, gardeners, mechanics, carpenters, two pilots on standby, a masseuse, a librarian and even a cheese maker for her own dairy.
Bunny was at her home in Antigua when she heard the news on a French radio station that JFK had been assassinated in November 1963, and she quickly went to her friend Jackie.
Although Bunny landed after midnight, she went straight to the White House.
‘I walked up to the front door of the White House through lines of soldiers and there was dead silence. I saw the black crepe over the doorway as I walked between the soldiers and the only sound there was the clicking of their heels as I passed and they came to attention’, Bunny wrote.
Bernard West, Chief White House Usher, was waiting for her. Tears were streaming down his face. Jackie had fallen asleep but wanted to talk to her and asked her to arrange the flowers at the Capitol, the church and at Arlington Cemetery.
Paul Mellon lived until age 91 in 1999. Paul Mellon’s estate was valued at $1.4billion. Pictured: The couple at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia in 1987
Bunny was taken to see the president’s coffin in the East Room to say a private goodbye.
‘It was like the fall of all the hope of you – as though youth had tried and had been thwarted – I saw the crepe around the East Room’.
Bunny handled all arrangements – from the Capitol to the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle for the funeral service and Arlington Cemetery.
When Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson were the new residents of the White House, the First Lady called Bunny and asked her to complete the East Garden that would be named ‘the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden’.
Bunny accepted but later bowed out and left her gardeners to complete the project, offended by LBJ’s vulgar vocabulary heard through his open windows.
Bunny was a source of support for Jackie in the months after Kennedy’s death.
Bobby later wrote a note to Bunny thanking her and saying ‘Without your wonderful kindness I am not certain Jackie could have borne the pain’.
Bunny Mellon, The Life of An American Style Legend, out on September 26
The woman was also a comforter to Jackie’s children, as Caroline and John stayed close to Bunny.
‘For John and me, a visit to Bunny’s house represented the biggest treat we could imagine’, Caroline stated –‘Mostly because she was someone who loved and understood us, and took care of our mother.
‘Bunny taught me to knit and to needlepoint, to paint and to plant, and to want piles of blue handkerchiefs stacked in my closet. Walking down our hallway, I could always tell when Mummy was talking to Bunny on the phone because her voice sounded so happy’.
It was Bunny who convinced Jackie to marry Aristotle Onassis, a Greek billionaire, because it would be a way ‘to get a leg up financially’ and Jackie would now have an entire fleet of private planes.
Heartbreak came for Bunny when Jackie came down with cancer of the lymphatic system and died in May 1994.
Bunny never expected to outlive her soul mate.
Paul Mellon lived until age 91 in 1999. Paul Mellon’s estate was valued at $1.4billion.
Bunny lived to be 103 years old in March 2014 when she died of natural causes at her home in Upperville, Virginia.
She had her share of sorrows that money could not comfort.
Her daughter, Eliza, had been hit while crossing the street in Manhattan and suffered a severe brain injury. She was left a quadriplegic and died in May 2000.
The one thing she asked in return of John Edwards was to attend Eliza’s funeral and sit next to her. He was a no-show.
He did try to attend Bunny’s funeral but was sent to view it from an outside tent. Staff and family never trusted the man.