Even now, at 80, Mrs. H. is possessed of a rather remarkable energy and spontaneity. Last year, she decided to help design a Rose Bowl float — and attend the parade in Pasadena. “Our crew here said the Rose Bowl parade would be a fun thing to do,” says Barbara King, the flower-shop manager. “Before I knew it, she had a trip planned with all of us, 15 designers, and we all spent a week out there. The first night we got there, she said, ‘Let’s go to Malibu!’”
FORTY 1˚ NORTH, Mrs. H.’s other Newport project, turns out to be as different from the nostalgic-looking Swiss Village as Mrs. H. is from what passes for modern-day socialites. Though the wharf is in a historic part of Newport’s waterfront, her restaurant is sleek, with metal tables, Philippe Starck-style chairs, lush plants, trendy outdoor lounge furniture, and appropriately nouvelle food. Mrs. H., though, always orders the same thing. “I made them put the reuben on the menu,” she says, waving away a waiter offering said menu and taking a seat overlooking the water.
Some have compared her to the late Brooke Astor, who died last year at age 105. The two shared a love of philanthropy (and both knew the power of a pretty hat). Astor, like Mrs. H., followed the money after she gave it, making sure it was doing exactly what she hoped it would. And she realized the importance of playing her role well. “If I go to Harlem or down to Sixth Street, and I’m not dressed up or I’m not wearing my jewelry, then people feel I’m talking down to them,” Astor once told the New York Times. “People expect to see Mrs. Astor, not some dowdy old lady.”