The Last Great Lady

Campbell Soup heiress Dorrance “Dodo” Hamilton has enjoyed a life of wealth and glamour: a debutante coming-out splashed in the “New York Times”, summers in Newport, and years as the face (and hat!) of the Main Line. In the waning days of Philly high society, we need “Mrs. H.” more than ever.

Matt Hamilton already knew that his mother was one of your more independent billionaire heiresses. But even he wasn’t quite prepared for the Bermuda trip. It was 1997, and his mother, Dorrance “Dodo” Hill Hamilton, then age 69, had a tradition of taking each of her grandchildren on vacation when they turned 13. “It was Charlotte’s turn,” says Hamilton of his niece, “and she and Mom went. My mom went double-parasailing with Charlotte behind a speedboat.” He sighs. “After that, nothing surprised me.”

That’s Mrs. Hamilton for you. (When you’re a billionairess, people call you “Mrs.”) With her elegant suits and trademark wide-brimmed hats, she might look the part of the classic old-school socialite, but Dorrance Hill Hamilton (“Dodo” was a nickname inherited from her mother) puts her own stamp on everything she does. This past summer, her clan joined her in Newport, Rhode Island, to celebrate her 80th birthday at a full-on ball at the Newport Country Club — just around the corner from her summer estate, a splendid 1901 mansion called Wildacre — that featured, among other things, face-painting and an ice sculpture in the shape of a dodo bird. Along with her blue satin dress and emeralds, the guest of honor wore a tiny red hat in the shape of a birthday cake.

Three days post-party, she’s still in residence at Wildacre. Standing at the door of that stone-and-shingle estate is her constant companion, Louie Hamilton, looking rather proud: It’s Tuesday, and he’s still recovering from the glorious birthday weekend, which was covered by Bill Cunningham in the New York Times Sunday Styles. Louie’s whole family was pictured, looking gorgeous and festive in their long gowns and jewelry. Now, appearing ever so slightly debauched, Louie’s still wearing his bow tie.

Of course, Louie’s been summering in Newport his whole life. Wildacre’s Japanese teahouse, its acres of pillowy hydrangeas and borders of heavenly peonies, the yachts bobbing by on serene Price’s Neck Cove — darling, that’s Louie’s backyard. That is, when he’s not at home at the Hamilton house in Wayne, or in Florida over the winter. One wouldn’t want to say that Louie looks smug up there on the porch, but he does look extremely self-satisfied as Phil, Mrs. Hamilton’s houseman, opens the door. And then Louie does something very un-Newport. He barks.

Lou-ie,” Mrs. Hamilton says, in a gently scolding tone. Mrs. H., as Phil and the other staff call her (when you’re a particularly lovely billionairess, people call you “Mrs.” plus your initial), smiles from under her white straw hat and scoops up Louie, a long-haired, snow-colored four-pound Maltese with bulging black eyes. Mrs. H. tucks him under her arm and heads into her sunroom.

“There was a full moon, and the humidity was gone. It was perfect,” Mrs. H., who has wide hazel eyes and a big, vivacious smile, is saying about her birthday party. There were flowers all around, and jazzy big-band music was piped into every room, including the muted living room and her pretty red library. “You can’t beat friends and family, food and booze. Well, wine, since people don’t drink anymore.”

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  • Anonymous

    I ENJOYED READING THIS ARTICLE, IT’S SO NICE TO READ ABOUT DOWN TO EARTH WEALTH..I LOVED GOING TO AUNT ETHEL’S HOME WHEN I WAS YOUNG..I STILL CAN PICTURE MOST OF THE ROOMS AND REMEMBER RIDING TOYS ON THE TERRACE !! THIS ARTICLE BROUGHT BACK MANY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES !!

  • w

    HER new hotel BLOCKED MY VIEW of the Water, and All that it had to offer……18 years. I’ve had that view !!!!!!!!!!!!!……….a purely SELFISH ACT !!!!!!!

  • Rita

    My grandmother (English)was a servant on the estate for years. My grandfather was a chauffeur. Their day off was Wednesdays, which was when we saw them. My grandmother “retired” in the 1950s. What a life they both had.

  • Rebecca Stetson

    I was in an awed state of warm rememberence when I came across this article about Dorrance Hamilton. I grew up in Newport, R.I, and attended Carey Elementary School (a hop,skip and a jump from Hamiltons Newport summer abode) in the mid 1980’s. At the time, my mother wa involved in a romantic relationship with her seasonal “care taker”. He lived in the servants quarters of her Newport mansion during off-season and watched over and maintained her home and property until she returned every summer. My mother and I both resided at Wildacre during this time and were lucky enough to experience this beautiful mansion and grounds first hand. It was absolutely amazing and grandoius, and the whole experience lingers in my dreams to this very day!

  • http://None elizabeth ready

    I have been with Campbell’s 32 years and have never lost the prestige, perfection of a lady like way, beautiful by example.. For love of those behind the scenes beautifully done and making a difference for others. Beth Ready 609-217-6996.

  • wildroses

    OK but it IS pretentious and extravagant to raise mink to make fur coats out of them and to say there’s something delicious about goldfish in your pond succumbing to being eaten by the mink you let proliferate once mink coats began to bore you. Money is intoxicating isn’t it? If you’re born into it often times you remain a slave to it, I suppose… and it marks who you ate and how people respond to you rich and poor alike.