Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, the billionaire heiress to the Mellon banking fortune, who funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to help former Sen. John Edwards cover up his extramarital affair, died Monday at age 103.
Mellon died of natural causes at her 4,000-acre estate in Upperville, Va., her lawyer told The New York Times.
Even before she married Paul Mellon — a philanthropist, racehorse breeder and noted art collector who was ranked several times as the world's richest man — in 1948, Rachel Lambert Mellon was immensely wealthy in her own right. Her grandfather Jordan Lambert invented Listerine, and she was heiress to the fortune spun off by the pharmaceuticals giant Warner-Lambert, which her father co-founded.
Mellon was a close friend of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and in 1961 she personally redesigned the White House Rose Garden. But she remained an intensely private woman — until her relative anonymity was stripped from her in 2011, when she became a central figure in a federal investigation and indictment of Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee.
It was revealed during an investigation of Edwards' extramarital affair with a campaign photographer that Mellon — then 101 and an enthusiastic supporter of Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign — gave aides $725,000 to help conceal the fling with Rielle Hunter.
The checks were falsely labeled as furniture purchases made by her interior decorator.
The case ended in a mistrial, but not before the phrase "Bunny money" entered the lexicon. That was how Edwards staffers described Mellon's checks.
The decorator, Bryan Huffman, testified that Mellon didn't mind that Edwards was having an affair. Instead, he told jurors, she was irked because "she thought that you should probably pay for your girlfriend yourself."
"She said that we were awfully foolish with the 'furniture business,'" he testified. "But we were having a wonderful time doing it."
Huffman said Monday that Mellon should better be remembered for her philanthropy and art curation.
"She's a remarkable person," he told The Associated Press, calling her "the last standing true American aristocrat."
— M. Alex Johnson