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Rachel Mellon

Heiress.

Born: August 9, 1910 Died: March 17, 2014

Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, who has died aged 103, was a wealthy arts and fashion patron and close friend of the former American first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. She was a member of the dynasty that invented Listerine and was also a political benefactor who became the centre of political scandal when she funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars to former presidential candidate John Edwards that was used to hide his mistress.

She lived a closely guarded life dominated by the arts, fashion, horses, rare books and extraordinary gardens - she once redesigned the garden at the White House - and after spending most of her life trying to avoid the spotlight, was thrust into it when Mr Edwards was indicted in 2011.

Prosecutors alleged he used campaign money, including £450,000 from Mrs Mellon, to hide his mistress Rielle Hunter and their child during Mr Edwards' 2008 Democratic presidential bid. A jury later acquitted him on a campaign finance charge and was deadlocked on five other counts. Mrs Mellon was not accused of breaking any laws.

Mrs Mellon was also a famous hostess and guests at her 4000-acre Oak Spring Farms in Virginia included members of the British royal family, stars and politicians.

She was born Rachel Lambert in New York and given the pet name Bunny by her mother when she was a child - it stuck for the rest of her life. Her grandfather Jordan W Lambert invented Listerine and her father Gerald Lambert built a company that made everything from Dentyne to razors before it was sold to Pfizer for £66billion in 2000.

In 1932, she married Stacy Barcroft Lloyd Jr, a businessman and horse breeder. After their divorce, she married his friend Paul Mellon - at the time, reportedly, the world's richest man. Mr Mellon, a renowned art collector, philanthropist and thoroughbred breeder, died in 1999 aged 91.

Mr Huffman, who introduced Mrs Mellon to Mr Edwards, said the former presidential candidate reminded her of John Kennedy. "She liked what he said about the 'Two Americas,"' Mr Huffman said. "She believed deeply in what he was saying."

Andrew Young, an aide to Mr Edwards, wrote in his tell-all book, The Politician, that Mrs Mellon became so distraught when the media attacked Mr Edwards over a £240 haircut that she sent him a letter offering to help. Mrs Mellon eventually gave Mr Edwards more than £3.6 million, Mr Young said.

He described how the campaign used the so-called Bunny Money to hide Ms Hunter. Mrs Mellon sent cheques to Mr Huffman inside boxes of chocolate, and Mr Huffman would direct them to the campaign, Mr Young wrote. Mrs Mellon's lawyer said she had no idea the money was going to hide a mistress.

Her grandson Lloyd said: "I think she was trying to help (Edwards) for the right reasons, believed in him, and I think frankly he just took advantage of a lot of opportunities that she gave him."

Mr Huffman said his friend remained in good spirits despite the Edwards distraction. She had endured worse, including the 2008 death of her daughter Eliza, who had been left quadriplegic when hit by a car years earlier.

Mrs Mellon was also an accomplished garden designer and botanist and was asked by Jacqueline Kennedy to design the White House Rose Garden.

She is survived by a son from her first marriage and two stepchildren.

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