BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Eleanor Kidd, a noted Birmingham philanthropist who was also a fashion model and the last woman to wear the Hope Diamond, died today. She was 97.
"She was such a wonderful lady with so many facets," said Gail Andrews, director of the Birmingham Museum of Art. "She had such style, such grace, and she had such depth, too."
Miss Kidd graduated from Phillips High School and earned an undergraduate degree from Birmingham-Southern College and graduate degree from Columbia University before becoming a model in New York. She was seen in advertisements for Lucky Strike cigarettes and other products, and jeweler Harry Winston asked her to wear the Hope Diamond, all 45.5 carats of it, before he gave it to the Smithsonian Institution.
"I didn't own it," she told The Birmingham News in 2001. "I just wore it one time."
Miss Kidd eventually returned to Birmingham to work in the family business, Sunnyland Refining Company, and she became known for her entertaining and her philanthropy.
The rotunda of St. Vincent's Hospital on Birmingham's Southside is named for her, and she was active with UAB Hospital, the museum, the Alabama Ballet and other organizations.
She also knew how to throw a party, often involving her favorite color, pink.
"It really is the end of an era," Andrews says. "She entertained in such a grand manner. She was so famous for her parties, which were so elegant with no detail undone."
Miss Kidd was also active with the annual Museum Ball.
"The ball was important to her for two reasons," Andrews said. "One, the money went to acquiring new pieces of art and later to education initiatives, and both of those things were important to her. She also loved an elegant party."
Friend and doctor Doug Tilt said Miss Kidd "was one of those people who always made her presence known, a wonderful and gracious lady from another era."
Tilt first met Miss Kidd when he was director of internal medicine at the Kirklin Clinic. He moved to practice medicine in the United Arab Emirates and returned to become the first holder of the Eleanor E. Kidd Endowed Chair in Primary Care Medicine.
Tilt and his wife, Sandy, dined with Ms. Kidd several times a year, usually at her favorite spot, Mountain Brook Club.
"We loved being with her," Tilt said. "She never dwelt on the fact that she wore that diamond or the fact that she was a model. She usually dwelt on things like her mom and her daddy. She also cherished her close friends."
Brad Kidd remembered his aunt as "just a fabulous lady."
"Invitations to her parties were like prizes," he said, recalling one event where she covered Mountain Brook Club in pink carpet.
"She got a letter from the club after that one saying there had never been something like that there before and there never would be again," Kidd said. Miss Kidd flew in pianist Peter Duchin to play at her 90th birthday party, and she traveled, sometimes on the Concorde, to France, Germany and Italy. She also had a home in Sedona, Ariz., Kidd said.
Kidd said his aunt had a "flair for the dramatic" and that she liked to be surrounded by witty and intellectually stimulating people.
"One of her favorite lines to me, which I'll always remember, was, 'Be bright, be brief and be gone,'" Kidd said. "And even when you weren't, you could fool yourself when you were around her into thinking you were."
Robin Kidd, Brad's wife, said that on one of her first dates with her husband-to-be, Brad told her, "You've got to meet my aunt."
On the car ride to Mountain Brook Club, Brad drove, and Robin and Eleanor sat in the back.
"She said ladies do not ride in the front seat," Robin Kidd said. "It was just many rules of being a lady that she'd share."
Robin often worked with Eleanor on her philanthropic endeavors.
"I really respected what she did for the community," Mrs. Kidd said. "She really loved the arts."
In fact, Miss Kidd requested that she be buried with her ballet toe shoes and ice skates, which she wore while ice skating in Central Park when she was young.
And what will she be wearing? It shouldn't be a surprise.
"Pink and pearls," Robin Kidd said. "That's what it will be."
A memorial service will be held Thursday at 2 p.m. at Highland United Methodist Church. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the church, the museum or the ballet.
Information from: The Birmingham News, http://www.al.com/birminghamnews