Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, a wealthy American arts and fashion patron, has died aged 103.
Mellon was a friend of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the political benefactor who funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars to former presidential candidate John Edwards that was used to hide his mistress.
Mellon lived a closely guarded life dominated by the arts, fashion, horses, rare books and extraordinary gardens.
She was thrust into the spotlight when Edwards was indicted in 2011 for using what prosecutors alleged was campaign money, including $US750,000 from Mellon, to hide mistress Rielle Hunter and their child during Edwards’ 2008 Democratic presidential bid.
Mellon was not accused of breaking any laws.
Friends said Mellon should be remembered more for her contributions to the world of horticulture, art and fashion than the scandal that marked her last years.
“She’s a remarkable person,” said her friend, interior designer Bryan Huffman. “The last-standing true American aristocrat.”
Mellon’s family said she died of natural causes at her beloved 1600-hectare Oak Spring Farms in Virginia.
Rachel Lowe Lambert Lloyd Mellon’s mother gave her the pet name “Bunny”, which stuck with her throughout her life.
Her grandfather created Listerine.
Her father, Gerald Lambert, built a company that made everything from Dentyne to Schick razors before it was sold to Pfizer for billions in 2000.
In 1932, she married Stacy Barcroft Lloyd Jr, a businessman and horse breeder. After their divorce, she married his friend Paul Mellon – at the time, reportedly, the world’s richest man. Paul Mellon died in 1999 at age 91.
Huffman, who introduced Mellon to Edwards, said the former presidential candidate reminded her of John Kennedy.
Edwards aide Andrew Young wrote that Mellon became so distraught when the media attacked Edwards over a $400 haircut that she sent him a letter offering to help. Mellon eventually gave Edwards more than $6 million, Young said.
Young described how the campaign used the so-called “Bunny money” to hide Hunter.
Mellon’s lawyer said she had no idea the money was going to hide a mistress.
Huffman said his friend remained in good spirits despite the Edwards distraction.
She had endured worse, including the 2008 death of her daughter Eliza, who had been left quadriplegic when hit by a car years earlier.
A self-taught botanist, Mellon was tapped by her friend Jacqueline Kennedy to design the White House Rose Garden.
She created another White House garden that was named in honour of Kennedy after her death.