- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 29, 2005

It takes a coffee-table book to enumerate Lily Safra’s largess in 18 countries around the world. The list of approximately 250 projects funded by the foundation named in honor of her husband, the late international banker Edmond J. Safra, doesn’t even tell the entire story since “The Gilded Lily,” as she is known in British newspapers, contributes to additional causes from a personal fortune estimated between $1 billion to $3 billion.

The Brazilian-born benefactress has kept a low profile since Mr. Safra’s death in a mysterious fire in their Monte Carlo penthouse five years ago (a male nurse later admitted to the crime) and now-settled lawsuits with family members over his estate. Recent press coverage focuses more on her philanthropy, or her fabulous real estate holdings in New York (where she lives in a $30 million Fifth Avenue co-op); in London (her six-story house in toney Belgravia is said to be worth $50 million); and on the French Riviera, where La Leopolda, a villa once owned by King Leopold II of the Belgians, might fetch as much as $200 million in a private sale to the right Russian plutocrat.

Having no Washington party palace, it was hardly surprising Mrs. Safra would choose to celebrate in the Library of Congress’ magnificent Great Hall on Thursday night following the official dedication, earlier that day, of the Edmond J. Safra Lodge at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Getting special permission from members of the congressional leadership to host the affair in such august precincts was no problem. It was the least they could do, Librarian of Congress James Billington suggested, to express appreciation for Mrs. Safra’s $5 million gift to complete the Lodge, which offers free-of-charge housing for families of adult patients receiving care at the NIH Clinical Center.

Ethel Kennedy, Buffy Cafritz, Deeda and Bill Blair, Marvin Hamlisch, Ann Jordan, Michael Kaiser, Catherine Reynolds, Leonard Lauder and other guests praised the facility, an English Arts and Crafts manor with 34 guest rooms, library, kitchen, social rooms and fitness center plus a garden designed by renowned landscape architect Madison Cox.

“It is so beautiful that I could move in myself,” Jill Sackler said before guests dined on black truffle risotto, filet of black cod and ice cream quenelles. (It is worth noting that one of the wines, a 1975 Chateau Gruaud-Larose Saint-Julien, was decanted before being placed back in the original bottles for serving, and that the towering arrangements of pink roses, peonies and azaleas were the creation of New York floral designer Philip Baloun.)

Mrs. Safra, dressed in a cherry red suit and wearing a knee-length rope of czarina-sized baroque pearls, murmured brief words of thanks after NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni praised her as a “Triple-H Lady: hope, humility and humanity … who is a true citizen of the world.”

Later she shrugged off a query about dealing with the controversy and criticism that inevitably accompany great wealth.

“We are all survivors,” she said a moment after French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte gave her hand a farewell kiss. “We should count our blessings no matter how difficult things may be.”

—Kevin Chaffee

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