Friday, September 22, 2017

Lady Mary bows out

She is probably the last of an era. Lady Mary Fairfax who died on Monday at age 95 was farewelled today at a service at the church of choice in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, St Marks in Darling Point. Lady Mary was the second wife of Sir Warwick Fairfax, the heir to the Fairfax publishing empire which at it's peak published the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne regarded as two of the great broadsheets of the world.

Whispers attended numerous parties at Mary's Darling Point pile Fairwater. Fairwater has been left in trust to the National Trust with the stipulation her loyal staff live there until they too pass on. Indeed we also spent a week at Lady Mary's New York penthouse on top the Pierre Hotel which was once the most expensive apartment in the world and which had it's own full sized ballroom. Mary wasn't there at the time but she arranged for her loyal chauffeur and his wife to host us.

Lady Mary's charity parties were the stuff of legend with guests like Prince Edward and Albert, Prince of Monaco ( Lady Mary was the Honorary Consul for Monaco) hosted in a giant marquee in her garden that backed on to Sydney Harbour.
With great style, Mary would invite selected media (like Moi) and we would be treated as equal guests, usually joining a line-up with her staff to be introduced to the royal guest of the evening. In a way it summed up not just Lady Mary's exquisite manners but the way she treated all people of varying backgrounds equally. Having risen to such great heights and privilege, Lady Fairfax devoted her life to charitable causes for the disadvantaged.

At one of Mary's parties we attended spoon bender Uri Geller was the star guest, Mary sent her butler to retrieve some of her silver cutlery which Geller proceeded to bend while dozens of guests found keys in their pocket bent out of shape or watches stopped or started. One guest, the representative of a French champagne company spent the night sleeping in his car when he found his car & house keys twisted out of shape.

Party guests: Albert of Monaco* Prince Edward, Uri Geller * James Murdoch
Pals: Ron & Nancy Reagan, Pope John Paul
When Lady Mary arrived at her New York penthouse just as Whispers was departing, she engaged us in a detailed conversation as to whether she should purchase a new Rolls Royce or a simpler Cadillac in which she was to be driven to Los Angeles (inviting us to accompany her but we had to turn her down as we were traveling on to London). Mary eventually purchased a sparkling new Roller and was duly driven to LA and when she asked her chauffeur to arrange for it to be shipped to Sydney he pointed out it was a left-hand drive:" Perhaps Madam should sell it and buy another one in Sydney". Instead she donated it to a local California charity to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
While in the US Mary would always drop by the White House in Washington to dine with her pals Ronald & Nancy Reagan. As a Catholic convert, they say she had The Pope on speed dial.

At another party at Fairwater Whispers photographed a young lad who had lain down on a sofa and promptly fallen asleep. He turned out to be a 14 year old James Murdoch on work experience for his dad Rupert Murdoch's Daily Telegraph. Mary's family purchased a portrait painting of Lady Mary by Whispers and artist Skid Stuart in 1995. We like to think it may still hang in the drawing room along side her  Rodin statue.
Lady Mary Fairfax, born in Poland is survived by her sons Warwick Fairfax , Garth Symonds from an earlier marriage to businessman Cedric Symonds and children Anna Cleary, Charles Fairfax and 12 grandchildren