- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

Garnett Stackelberg, noted society figure


Garnett Stackelberg, a chronicler of international society for nearly 60 years and one of Washington’s last grande dames, died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at Georgetown University Hospital. She was 95.

Born Garnett Butler in Nebraska, she was endowed with brains and beauty but limited financial resources. During the Depression, she was forced to drop out of Oregon State College.

In the summer of 1932, she visited a friend in Shanghai, where she secured a position with the U.S. Consulate.

She subsequently married Dr. William Gardiner, a prominent Canadian physician.

The two shared in the expatriate colony’s luxurious lifestyle until December 1941, when Japanese troops invaded Shanghai and took control of the apartment building, where the couple lived in the city’s European enclave. For seven months, they were under virtual house arrest.

In mid-1942, Dr. Gardiner was assigned to care for ailing American journalist J.B. Powell, who was to be released from a Japanese prison as part of a civilian exchange with Japanese prisoners held by the United States. The Gardiners accompanied Mr. Powell on a ship bound for Mozambique, where the exchange took place. The couple transferred to a Swedish liner that reached New York after two months.

Mrs. Gardiner traveled nationwide speaking about China and her experiences with the Japanese occupiers. An old promotional poster described her as “a charming, natural, forceful feminine speaker.” She also began writing a syndicated column that appeared in many U.S. newspapers.

Dr. and Mrs. Gardiner divorced after the war.

She left for Washington, where she met Baron Constantine “Steno” Stackelberg at a British Embassy reception. Mr. Stackelberg was a descendant of a family of Teutonic Knights who once had possessed estates in Estonia when that country was part of the Russian empire.

As a boy, Mr. Stackelberg served as a page in the court of Czar Nicholas II (where his father was master of ceremonies). He was related by blood or marriage to the royal dynasties of Spain, Greece and Great Britain and was a cousin of the late Earl Louis Mountbatten of Burma.

Mr. Stackelberg worked in a mid-level job at the Commerce Department while Mrs. Stackelberg chronicled the parties and public activities of Washington’s society hostesses, lawmakers and diplomats.

She was accredited to the White House for many decades and covered state dinners from the Kennedy through the second Bush administrations, mingling with kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers and giving special attention to the elegance of the setting and the guests’ attire.

She wrote about the city’s social life for the Times Herald, the Washington Star, the Miami Herald, the Oakland Tribune, the Baltimore News American, Dossier, Washington Life and the North American edition of L’Officiel.

After her husband’s death in 1989, she focused on Washington coverage for the Palm Beach Daily News, where her last column appeared a few weeks before her death. She frequently wrote about the diplomatic world and regularly led delegations of ambassadors to Palm Beach to attend charity balls and other events.

A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, she traveled around the world numerous times, visited 72 countries and interviewed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Queen Sirikit of Thailand and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mrs. Stackelberg is survived by a son from her second marriage, Charles Alexander “Sandy” von Stackelberg, of Boston, his wife Nancy and two grandsons, Christian and Nicholas.

Friends are invited to call at Joseph Gawler’s Sons, 5130 Wisconsin Ave. NW on Friday from 6 to 8 p.m.

A memorial service will be held at the National Presbyterian Church, 4101 Nebraska Ave. NW, on Saturday at 10 a.m. Interment will be private.

Memorial offerings can be sent to the JHG Washington Corp., c/o Christiane Wiese, 8125 Gainsborough Court, East Potomac, Md., 20854. It is a tax-exempt charitable organization affiliated with the German Order of St. John.

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