Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lady Beit (1915-2005)

Lady Beit, who died in London, 17 August, 2005, aged 89, was the widow of the multi-millionaire philanthropist, Sir Alfred Beit, 2nd & last Baronet. Lady Beit was chatelaine of Russborough, a magnificent Palladian mansion near Dublin.
In 1947 the Beits sold their London town house at 15 Kensington Palace Gardens ("Millionaires Row"), which Sir Alfred had acquired just before WW2, to the government of Iraq.
Lady Beit and her husband were exceptionally generous patrons of the arts in Ireland. In 1952 they bought Russborough House in Wicklow to house the spectacular Beit Art Collection.
The Beits established the Beit Foundation in 1976 to manage their 18th century Palladian mansion and the art collection housed within. They subsequently presented both to the Irish nation.
Their munificence was recognised in 1993, when Mary Robinson, President of Eire, made them honorary Irish citizens.
The Beits sustained two burglaries at their home - the first in 1974, was led by the former debutante, Oxonian and IRA sympathiser Rose Dugdale; the gang assaulted the Beits and made off with 19 paintings including a Goya and a Vermeer. The works of art were recovered within a month.
In 1986 thieves struck again, this time stealing 18 paintings valued at $45million - at that time the most lucrative art robbery ever. A Velasquez subsequently turned up in Turkey and in 1992 the Gainsborough portrait of _Madame Baccelli_ was found by police in a van near Euston station.
Lady Beit was born posthumously, 22 Oct, 1915, scion of the Barons Redesdale, second daughter of Major the Hon. Clement Bertram Mitford, DSO (1876-1915), by his wife the former Lady Helen Alice Wylington Ogilvy, second daughter of the 8th Earl of Airlie.
Clementine was a cousin of the famous Mitford sisters; her father, not theirs, would have become the 2nd Baron Redesdale if he had not been killed in the First World War in May, 1915.
She married Sir Alfred in 1939 at Northaw, near Potters Bar. Her husband was a nephew of one of the great South African "Randlords" - another Alfred Beit, who was born in Hamburg in 1853.
Although Lutheranised in religion, the family was of Sephardic Jewish origin. The first Alfred Beit went out to South Africa at 17, just as the Kimberley diamond fields had been opened up. Within 20 years the diamond mines and trade had been entirely brought under the control of the De Beers company, itself effectively owned by Cecil Rhodes, Barney Barnato and Beit, who was the true financial genius of the group.
In their palmy days Sir Alfred and Lady Beit were known as the most handsome couple in London society. Her husband succeeded to the baronetcy in 1930. There were no children of the marriage, and Sir Alfred died in Ireland, 12 May, 1994, aged 91.
The funeral takes place at St Peter's, Eaton Square, London SW1, 30 August, 2005.

Sources: Daily Telegraph 22 Aug, 2005; Daily Telegraph 14 May, 1994; The Times, 14 May, 1994.

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