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The Family Astor


Lord William Astor is a British cousin by marriage who has been close to Brooke for decades, and when he called from a vacation in Scotland, he said he is now haunted by his visit to her roughly a year ago. “She didn’t recognize me to start with, but halfway through, she squeezed my hand and said, ‘I’m having a miserable time, please take me away.’ She had a lucid moment.” In recent years, she had complained to Lord Astor that Anthony wanted her to cut spending, so much so that Lord Astor quietly contacted her investment advisers for reassurance that her funds were intact (they were).

There is much speculation that Philip stands to benefit financially if improprieties are uncovered; he has told friends that he was promised a cottage at his grand­mother’s estate in Northeast Harbor. In 2003, Brooke Astor signed over the property to Marshall—and six months later, Anthony deeded it to Charlene. Philip’s friends counter that by making these allegations, Philip has ensured that he will be cut out of his father’s will. And, in fact, the only people guaranteed to benefit are the lawyers.

After Vincent Astor died, leaving $60 million to his foundation and a roughly equal amount to Brooke after a five-year marriage, his younger half-­brother, Jack, sued unsuccessfully for a share. Vincent’s nephew Ivan Obolensky, now 82, was not part of that lawsuit, but he still bears a grudge. “Vincent Astor would be so horrified by this. Poor Brooke, who took all the money and ran—she pushed him to change his will. He was drinking; he was lonely, poor man. I loved him,” says Obolensky, the chairman of the Soldiers and Sailors Home. “Brooke was one of the great adventuresses of her time. This is sad, but I’m laughing,” he says. “You reap what you sow.”

Brooke Astor—now resting at Holly Hill, waiting for the noise around her to quiet—might hope for a legacy greater than that. “As a child,” she wrote in Footprints. “I was made to feel that I should create an atmosphere of good will around me. It is certainly a better way to live than to have a chip on one’s shoulder or be continually looking for flaws in someone else’s character. The French say, ‘To know all is to forgive all.’ Well, one can never know all, and one cannot in one’s heart forgive ­everything; but one can appear to do so, and then eventually, one forgets.”


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