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Two Wives' Tale

Palm Beach society travel agent Philip Roome liked to keep people happy. And when he committed suicide, his wife Liza Pulitzer was surprised to discover he was married to someone else. Now the wives are friends.

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Plenty of Roome: Roome and Liza Pulitzer at "21" earlier this year.  

There is a saying in Palm Beach that you never want to die off-season—no one will notice. So people try to hang on until November. But Philip Roome, who married into one of the resort town’s most famous families, didn’t wait. On a bright Manhattan morning in September, two weeks after he returned from a belated honeymoon in Capri with Palm Beach princess Liza Pulitzer, whom he had married in December, the 57-year-old Roome walked down the hallway of his 30th-floor Park Avenue office, past his colleagues, and jumped out a back window. It was a discreet choice; it overlooked a fourth-floor balcony, so he knew he wouldn’t land on the street.

Liza had spoken with Philip three times already that morning; normal, sweet, warm conversations, but when she called a fourth time, there was an awkward pause before his secretary Paula bluntly told her he was dead. “She called back an hour later,’’ recalls Pulitzer, “and said, ‘I have something else to tell you.’ I said, ‘It sure as hell can’t be any worse.’ She paused and said, ‘Actually, it is. You aren’t his wife.’ ‘’

Palm Beach is a small, friendly, tight-lipped place, where money is spent, not made, a happy little village of the superrich. Everyone (who’s anyone) knows everyone. Everyone knew Philip Roome, and everyone certainly knew Liza Pulitzer. And Liza Pulitzer now knows Roome’s first wife, Anne. And Roome knew Liza’s first husband, Bob Leidy. According to Shannon Donnelly, the society columnist for the Palm Beach Daily News, socializing with the exes is the norm in Palm Beach, which she refers to as “like a suburb of New York.” “It’s a small society, and you soon realize that you travel in the same circles and you’d better be friendly. Anyone who isn’t nice down here is out.’’

Liza Pulitzer is an athletic women in her mid-forties, with long legs, a perpetually tanned, chiseled face, and minimal makeup. She is the daughter of floral-fashion icon Lilly Pulitzer, which makes her Palm Beach royalty, first among superrich equals. Divorced, and with two twentysomething sons, Liza had been introduced to Roome in May 2000 by a mutual friend who was friendly with Philip during his first marriage and just assumed he and Anne had gotten divorced.

Roome, plump and preppy, with a shaggy mop of brown hair, wasn’t exactly royalty. But he was gregarious and popular and, through his travel agency, Park Avenue Travel, an indispensible facilitator of the Palm Beach lifestyle. Liza and Philip immediately hit it off, and two years later they had a wedding reception for 135 at her mother’s fanciful estate, with its yellow walls, pink ceiling, and tropical gardens. He traveled down to meet Liza every weekend, retreating to the homey comfort of her 1922 mission-style house in El Cid. “He lived to come down here on weekends,’’ she says. “I would throw him on a bicycle, and I would Rollerblade. We would swim together and have dinner parties.’’

Liza’s ex-husband, Bob Leidy, would often stop by and join the couple for dinner, High Society–style. “He was incredible, wonderful to Liza and to our sons,’’ says Leidy, a tall, elegant man with white hair and piercing blue eyes. “Philip would arrive and I’d be there mixing cocktails. He never let it bother him.’’

Liza was aware that Roome was manic-depressive. But, along with his continuing marriage to Anne and his business problems, he hid his deep psychic pain almost completely, playing the debonair Palm Beach husband. “It never entered my mind that he would do this,”’ she says, her voice breaking. “I figured as long as he was taking medication, everything was okay. I never saw him take a drink, we never fought, and I never saw a mood swing. Even when I spoke to him that morning, I didn't see a crack. What I saw for 48 hours a week was a guy who put up his best fight to be a great husband. He kept up such a positive front and he wanted so badly to be a great person in my eyes. He sheltered me and kept me in a place that was really loving. I didnÂ’t understand that my reality was not his reality.

“In the end,” she speculates, “he couldn’t live with not being that person.”

Liza had been due to arrive in New York on September 13, the day after Philip ended his life. She and Anne both believe that his fear of their finally discovering each other might have been a factor in his suicide.

Anne Haigney Roome, his first wife, knew more about his reality, if not his second marriage. She’s sitting in the parlor room of her East 62nd Street townhouse, with its hand-carved wooden staircase, black-and-white marble floors, and Picasso drawings mixed with her own artwork—including a painting of her mother, “Potsie”—in a Lilly Pulitzer dress. “Philip kept me living like a princess,” says Anne. “In his manic phases, he was so happy, he felt he didn't need help.”


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