- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

Rumors and innuendo have swirled around Lily Safra since the mysterious death by asphyxiation of her husband, banker Edmond J. Safra, in a suspicious fire in their fortified Monaco penthouse in December 1999.
The attractive blond widow, who inherited a fortune estimated at $1 billion to $4 billion, has endured endless speculation about the circumstances of the incident (a male nurse has admitted starting the fire but has denied murderous intent), her late husband's will (which was drafted a month before his death and has been challenged by his three sisters), murky details of her previous marriages, and even her supposed real estate dealings.
Her 6,500-square-foot Fifth Avenue Manhattan co-op, by the way, is for sale at $30 million, although La Leopolda, a magnificent French Riviera palace once owned by King Leopold II of Belgium, has not been put on the market, as reported, for $200 million.
Mrs. Safra's many friends on the international social scene argue that far less attention has been paid to her considerable philanthropies $1 million to World Trade Center victims' families; $400,000 for Afghan relief; $30 million for a Hebrew University in Israel; and many millions more for education, cancer and AIDs research and historic preservation projects around the world.
When she recently donated $3 million to the National Institutes of Health to help fund a residence for relatives of patients undergoing clinical treatment, pals rallied 'round. The word went out: "Be there for Lily" this week in Washington for ceremonies marking the naming of the facility as the Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge.
"You see, some of my friends think I'm a nice person," Mrs. Safra said with a slight smile when a reporter commented on the turnout at the dinner she hosted Tuesday night at the Folger Shakespeare Library: Texans Lynn and Oscar Wyatt; former United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who flew in from France; and a bevy of New York glitterati (many arriving on Mrs. Safra's plane and staying as her guests at the Ritz-Carlton), including Blaine and Robert Trump, Princess Firyal of Jordan, TV anchor Deborah Norville and columnist Aileen ("Suzy") Mehle.
The Washington contingent, rounded up by medical fund-raiser Deeda Blair and Robert M. Higdon Jr. (who runs the Prince of Wales Foundation in the United States), featured Ethel Kennedy, former "Wonder Woman" actress Lynda Carter Altman, grande dame Oatsie Charles, World Bank chieftain James D. Wolfensohn and other appropriately A-listy types.
The dinner certainly was "over the top" even for a lavish Washington event. Masses of cherry-blossom branches fashioned by New York florist Philip Baloun filled the Folger's Great Hall from floor to ceiling, creating a gardenlike effect as waiters scurried about during cocktail hour with exquisite tiny hors d'ouevres and vintage champagne served in crystal flutes. Wonderful as the Design Cuisine-catered dinner was black truffle risotto, filet of sea bream, ice cream quenelles it obviously was trumped by a wine selection that raised eyebrows even among the snobbiest oenophiles.
"I can't believe she's serving a Saint-Julien-Medoc Leoville 1975 to a hundred guests," one imbiber whispered while nodding for another refill of her chalicelike glass.
Conversations in hushed tones drifted across the vaulted, dimly candlelighted Old Reading Room, adding to a somewhat surreal atmosphere before speeches of praise for the hostess and her gift by Mr. Perez de Cuellar and Sen. Christopher Bond. Mrs. Safra's reply was delivered in an exotic accent (she is Brazilian-born and speaks five languages) and emphasized her late husband's commitment to charitable causes as well as her long ordeal taking care of him while he suffered from Parkinson's disease.
"When my husband became ill, my world narrowed quickly," she murmured as the crowd strained to hear. "Helping Edmond was not my most important goal; it was my only goal."
Mrs. Safra's "extraordinary generosity" coupled with her deep and abiding interest in neurological degenerative diseases made the decision to fund the lodge a logical choice, said Mrs. Blair, who added that her friend was fully mindful of the fact that most families are unable to cope with the financial drain of setting up housekeeping far from home while their loved ones are undergoing medical treatment.
Similar sentiments were echoed repeatedly on Capitol Hill the following day at an NIH luncheon and announcement ceremony attended by actor Michael J. Fox (who also suffers from Parkinson's disease), Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and many prominent doctors and medical scientists.
"Patients get better quicker when they have a family member nearby, and their treatment is more effective," Mr. Kennedy said, adding that he hoped news of the Safra Family Lodge would soon "echo forth," causing it to be replicated throughout the country and the world.
Guests predicted that Mrs. Safra's gifts and grants to myriad causes throughout the country and the world would continue, as well.
"Her desire to give is real, and she looks to do wonderful things," one friend noted, "and as far as positive PR is concerned, there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to get maximum bang from her very considerable bucks."

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