Barbara M. “Bunny” Hathaway, a World War II veteran and philanthropist whose home and meticulously maintained gardens were nationally recognized, died of heart failure last Friday at her Owings Mills residence. She was 101.
“Bunny was just extraordinary. She had charm, grace, dignity and sophistication,” said Peter Dunn, a landscape designer and longtime friend. “In an era where poise and grace are in short supply, she exuded both. She was fascinating, a huge magnet and people from all walks of life responded to her.”
Robert “Rob” Deford, president and owner of Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, is her godson.
“I went to her 100th birthday, which was a stylish affair as everything always was with Bunny, who was my mother’s best friend,” Mr. Deford said.
“When I was a child, she always took an interest in me and she approached me as an intellectual and asked what was I doing, thinking and reading,” he said. “She always had her antennae up and was flexible. As the culture changed, she could adjust to the modern world. She was a proud Democrat in the best sense of the word and lived that way. It wasn’t a false front.”
Mrs. Hathaway was an elegant, stylish host whose life was defined by a questioning curiosity and informed conversation.
Barbara Sealy Mallory was born in Greenwich, Connecticut, and raised there and on Park Avenue in New York City.
[ John Ahern Healy, DPW employee and cabdriver, dies ]
She was the daughter of Clifford Day Mallory, a founder of the American Yacht Racing Union, who had been president and CEO of the Mallory Line, a family-owned steamship company.
Her mother was Rebecca Willis Sealy Mallory, and her maternal grandfather was George Sealy, president and owner of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway.
Mrs. Hathaway, who was known universally as “Bunny,” attended Rosemary Hall in Greenwich, and graduated in 1939 from Chatham Hall in Chatham, Virginia.
Because of her father’s prominence in New York maritime circles, one of Mrs. Hathaway’s fondest memories from her youth was sailing on the 1936 eastbound maiden voyage of the Cunard-White Star Line’s RMS Queen Mary.
“She didn’t care about or notice the Hollywood stars or titans of industry who were onboard. All she cared about were the members of the Yale University crew team,” said her son, Phillips “Pete” Hathaway of Sharon, Connecticut, with a laugh.
She made her debut in 1939 at the Junior Assembly in New York City and the Bachelors Cotillon. Maury Paul, who wrote under the byline Cholly Knickerbocker for King Features Syndicate, named her in a column as 1939′s “Debutante of the Year.”
Mrs. Hathaway had planned to go abroad and study operatic singing, but with the outbreak of World War II and the death of her father in 1941, she moved to Washington and took a job in the art department of the American Red Cross.
At a friend’s urging, she joined the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of today’s CIA.
“They asked her if she could type, speak a foreign language or been to college, and she replied, ‘No,’” her son said. “And then they said, ‘You’re hired,’ and put her on the Balkan desk, where she deciphered code, and remained there until the end of the war.”
In 1945, she married Baltimore native E. Phillips Hathaway, a decorated World War II Marine Corps aviator, and immediately moved to Baltimore when he joined the investment banking firm of Middendorf, Colgate & Co.
In 1953, the couple had Charles M. Nes Jr. of the prominent Baltimore architectural firm Palmer and Lamdin, design a French-inspired house on a 13.5-acre parcel on Baronet Road in the Green Spring Valley, which became the backdrop for their extensive gardens.
The gardens have been noted by publications such as House & Garden, Southern Accents and Chesapeake Home. In 2013, the gardens were accepted into the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens.
“Thriving native plants give a feeling of continuity to the garden. Whether you walk through Bunny’s formal kitchen garden to gather herbs or down a stony path to her cutting beds, you are transported to a place of wonder,” according to a Garden Club of America Journal article.
Mrs. Hathaway brought a great deal of spirit to her philanthropic endeavors.
She anonymously provided the seed money for Open Gates Health Center, a Pigtown medical facility.
“She and Phil supported the work we did and were huge champions of the center,” said Marla Oros, who at the time was associate dean of clinical affairs at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
“Open Gates provided a vital access point for those who had no medical means as this was a time before the Affordable Care Act, and Barbara wanted us to respect the dignity of our patients regardless of their socio-economic status,” Ms. Oros said
She said Mrs. Hathaway even designed the gates to the new building, which was named for her maternal grandparents’ mansion in Galveston.
Other philanthropic interests included the Joseph Richey Hospice House, Paul’s Place, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Planned Parenthood, Irvine Nature Center, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Choral Arts Society and St. John’s Episcopal Church Western Run, where she had been a longtime communicant and altar guild member.
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When Harvey Ladew opened Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton to the public, Mrs. Hathaway was an original corporate trustee. During the 1980s she was president of the garden committee.
In 2012, she established a scholarship for underserved youth at the New England Science & Sailing Foundation in Stonington, Connecticut. She was also a supporter of Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut, of which her father was a founder.
Through the years she played an instrumental role in financially supporting the Clifford Day Mallory Cup, named for her father, at what is now the Regional Sailing Association. The cup, which had been established by her mother in 1952, honors an overall champion in the sport of sailing, regardless of racing class.
The historic cup — which is actually a silver soup tureen — had been presented by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to the family of Lord Nelson in appreciation of his command of the British fleet that defeated Napoleon in the 1798 Battle of the Nile.
She was a member of the Mount Vernon, Elkridge and Greenspring clubs.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. June 15 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church at 232 St. Thomas Lane in Owings Mills.
In addition to her son, she is survived by three daughters, Mallory Hathaway of Center Sandwich, New Hampshire, Rebecca Hathaway of Millbrook, New York, and Sealy Hopkinson of Laurel Hollow, New York; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.