Two Wives’ Tale

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.”

Blazer Trail: Roome with his wife Anne early in their marriage.

Anne and Philip met when they were teenagers. “I fell for him hook, line, and sinker; he was so charismatic,’’ recalls Anne, whose father, a high-powered attorney, occasionally advised Howard Hughes and was president of Rheingold, the beer company. Philip spent more and more time with Anne’s large family—there were seven children—and less time at his own troubled home. His mother was a manic-depressive. “Both of his parents were alcoholics, and medications were not as effective for depression as they are now, so his mother would be in bed for days at a time. My family adored him, and he became like the eighth child. When my mother had the twins, he helped bathe and diaper them.’’

Five years later, Philip and Anne invited 75 people to her parents’ home for their wedding celebration. The pair went to Paris and Morocco for their honeymoon before moving into 1105 Park Avenue and buying the place in Palm Beach that they flew down to every weekend.

Philip worked at Park Avenue Travel, which his parents had founded, but he turned it into a niche business in the high-flying eighties and was referred to by clients as “Mr. Magic’’ throughout the nineties. He catered to demanding travelers, from Lee Iacocca to socialites to Saudi princes to the wife of the shah of Iran, who would rent private jets and take over floors of hotels. There was one client who had a mariachi band flown in on a jet to play under a girlfriend’s window, and another who chartered an entire plane to bring an exotic parrot to Dakar. When a member of the powerful Washington-based Cafritz family broke her ankle in Spain, Philip flew over a team of American doctors. “Philip was the smoothest guy I had ever dealt with, and so energetic,’’ says one former client, an attorney. “He would be on the phone with me and say, ‘Hold on a minute, I have to book something for [former chairman of the Federal Reserve] Paul Volcker,’ and then he’d jump back on to deal with my request.’’

“He kept up such a positive front,” says Pulitzer. “I didn’t understand that my reality wasn’t his reality.”

If jet fuel drove Roome’s days, alcohol began to fuel his nights. His posse included Ian Kean, Lee McMakin, and Frank Shields (Brooke’s father) in Palm Beach and the artist Garner Tullis and photographer Tom Shelby in New York. He and Kean rented a place in Key West, and they would zip down there on a Learjet. Anne felt increasingly uncomfortable with his social life. While they were still a couple, they attended a luxe party at the home of Messmore and Mary Kendall in Palm Beach, and Philip dived into their pool fully dressed. After she finally locked him out in 1996 because he refused to go into rehab, Philip wound up at the Breakers with an 18-year-old girl whose mother was a baroness. His friends say they staged a mock wedding, with an actor posing as a priest.

“Frank Shields was handsome, and the most amusing man you ever want to meet, and very supportive of Philip, but he took the position that if you don’t come home on the bonnet of your car, what’s the problem?” Anne says. “By the nineties, the drinking had become insupportable for me.’’

Anne, of course, knew that Roome came from a family that had been destroyed by alcoholism. And it became increasingly clear, too, that the drinking masked a deeper problem. While it might be said that many in Palm Beach have a spending problem, Anne realized that Roome’s was an actual illness. “When my sister Courtney got married, she brought her husband down to Palm Beach to visit us,’’ recalls Anne. “Philip took him right over to Cartier and bought him a watch. I mean, Geoff was thrilled, but really … At Christmas he would buy all these extravagant gifts for people we hardly knew.”

Even after she locked him out, Anne stayed close to Philip. “We used to say that we’d probably be slobbering all over each other when we were in our nineties,’’ says Anne, smiling. “We spoke every day, but we never talked about dating. He would just pretend he was with the guys, and I would say I was out with my girlfriends. I could talk to him, and I wanted to believe he was okay, but I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want the pain.”

Between his marriage to Anne and his marriage to Liza, there were other women, and he seemed to support them all. There was a girlfriend to whom he wrote a check for $300,000, and a private art dealer named Marla, who lived in his Tribeca loft.

Anne whips out a thick wad of receipts and puts them on the coffee table. “I have reams of these from paintings he bought, and I’d like to know where they are,’’ she says with a sigh. “He continued to pay insurance and phone bills for these women; he just didn’t know how to terminate relationships. He kept me living like a princess; he kept up everyone’s lifestyle. Philip had 24 keys to that loft, and he gave all of them out, but no one knows who has them. Marla has just asked for $40,000. I don’t know why I should be paying her health care. She says he had talked to her about bankruptcy, but that’s ridiculous. His assets far exceed any debt. He owned half of this house. It probably should have been sold, but that’s typical of Philip. He just didn’t know how to cut back.’’

In the wake of September 11, the travel business took a deep dive, and Roome couldn’t keep control of his spending. During the week, Philip would go into a black hole, sitting in a dark office and staring at the newspapers. His appearance was uncharacteristically disheveled, his hair uncombed, his normal dapper outfit missing a tie or socks.

In Palm Beach, he kept up appearances. At his birthday party the week before his suicide, the evening ended with Philip and his friends acting like frat boys, pulling out water pistols and spraying each other.

“What was going on in his business must have been a disaster for him, but Philip never portrayed it as such,’’ says Liza. “He had played in a world where jets and a high lifestyle were available to him, and a lot of his self-image was tied into what he could provide. He was supportive emotionally, but I supported my own lifestyle. His financial problems wouldn’t have mattered to me.’’

Philip had been diagnosed as bipolar in 1997, and in the days preceding his death, he was in such a downward spiral that both Anne and his psychiatrist, Andrew Slaby, had been trying to get him into a hospital. He had refused to go, saying that would just increase his anxiety.

On the morning of Roome’s death, Anne had been in the office of Park Avenue Travel, the agency he owned, helping him with a financial problem. Martin Frankel, one of their clients, left the country on a flight arranged through Park Avenue Travel and then was accused of embezzling more than $215 million from insurance companies. When claims started coming in against Frankel, the government froze close to a million dollars of Park Avenue’s cash flow. Anne had offered to help go through the documents in an effort to bargain with the government and get the funds freed. Anne’s younger sister Jennifer, who had known Philip since she was a toddler, worked in his office, and she too was there the morning he jumped.

“Philip had all these big windows in his office, and Jennifer had made him promise not to open them,” says Anne. “But that morning, he walked right past us and into a back room. Someone asked where Philip was, and one man said that he was probably in the bathroom, but as soon as Jen and I saw that back window open, we started hugging each other. We just knew.’’

At a memorial service held in a small Catholic church on East 62nd Street a month after his death, the priest welcomed “Anne and Liza and their families.”

When Liza stood to eulogize him in front of the room, which held clients, employees, and several sculpted blondes, including Marla, she made use of her considerable gifts as a hostess. “Whether you were a friend or one of his wives,” she said, to muted laughter, “you are here because Philip gave love, received love, and, in the end, finally found love.”

The subject of his generosity came up repeatedly that afternoon, and another eulogist, Peter Williams, explained that Philip “compartmentalized his life’’ and asked people to “remember the good, like the man who visited his sick employee in the hospital every day, not the Philip under attack from demons in his mind. The not-so-good, if any, should be scattered with his ashes.’’ After the service, Liza and Anne stood together and spoke with the mourners. Anne referred to them as the “merry wives of Roome.”

Both wives are philosophical about their husband’s deception. “Philip finally found with Liza what he had found with me—refuge and a family,” Anne says. “She’s the only one he was with who wasn’t a lightweight. I know the only reason he didn’t ask for a divorce and tell me about Liza is that he was afraid it would hurt me.”

“At the beginning, he told me he was divorced from Anne, and I’m guessing he would have considered my finding out about her to be something really big, but of course I’ll never know,” Liza says. “Anne and I went to see his psychiatrist, and he told me that actually I had kept him alive for two and a half years. When he found love, he hung onto it as long as he could. I think he was afraid everything was about to fall apart.

“They say for bipolar people that door to suicide is always an option,” Liza continues. “I look at Philip as being heroic. He probably felt that if he took himself out of the picture, everything would be well again. In the end, he took that door, but I will miss him and love him until the day I die.” A week after the memorial, Liza flew up to New York to stay with Anne and go through some of Philip’s possessions. “We were lying in my bed with my dogs, exchanging stories about him,” recalls Anne. “And we said, ‘If Philip could see us now, do you think he’d have a big smile on his face?” ”

Two Wives’ Tale