Civic leader Astor, 105, dies

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NEW YORK (AP) — Brooke Astor, the civic leader, philanthropist and high-society fixture who gave away nearly $200 million to support New York City’s great cultural institutions and a host of humbler projects, died yesterday. She was 105.

Mrs. Astor, who recently was the center of a highly publicized legal dispute over her care, died of pneumonia at Holly Hill, her Westchester County estate in Briarcliff Manor, family lawyer Kenneth Warner said.

Brooke was truly a remarkable woman,” longtime family friend David Rockefeller said. “She was the leading lady of New York in every sense of the word.”

Although a legendary figure in New York City and feted with a famous gala on her 100th birthday in March 2002, Mrs. Astor was mostly interested in putting the fortune that husband Vincent Astor left to use by helping others.

Her efforts won her a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1998.

“Money is like manure, it should be spread around,” was her oft-quoted motto. There has been a lot to spread in the family ever since Vincent Astor’s great-great-grandfather, John Jacob Astor, made a fortune in fur trading and New York real estate.

Mrs. Astor gave millions to what she called the city’s “crown jewels” — among them the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, the Museum of Natural History, Central Park and the Bronx Zoo.

Papers filed in July 2006 purported her final years were marred by neglect, and in a settlement three months later, her son, Anthony Marshall, was replaced as her legal guardian with Annette de la Renta, wife of the fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.

Mr. Marshall’s son, Philip Marshall, a professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, had accused his father of looting his grandmother’s estate and allowing her to live in filthy conditions at her Park Avenue duplex. Anthony Marshall denied any wrongdoing.

In December, a Manhattan judge ruled that claims were not substantiated.

Mrs. Astor was born Brooke Russell on March 30, 1902. She was the only child of John H. Russell, a career Marine officer who rose to become commandant of the Corps from 1934 to 1936.

At 16, she was pushed by her mother into marriage with J. Dryden Kuser. The marriage ended in divorce 10 years later.

Her second marriage was to stockbroker Charles “Buddie” Marshall. Her son Anthony, from her marriage to Mr. Kuser, took Buddie Marshall’s name.

Mr. Marshall died in 1952. A year later, she married Vincent Astor, the eldest son of John Jacob Astor IV, who died in the sinking of the Titanic.

Vincent Astor died in 1959 and left his widow $2 million plus the interest off $60 million and endowed the Vincent Astor Foundation with an additional $67 million.

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