Betsy Bloomingdale, Reagan friend and philanthropist, dies


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Betsy Bloomingdale, a department store heir’s widow who hobnobbed with the world’s elite, epitomized high fashion and was best friends with former first lady Nancy Reagan, has died. She was 93.

The socialite and philanthropist died Tuesday at her home in the exclusive Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles from congestive heart failure, her daughter-in-law, Justine Bloomingdale, said Thursday.

The daughter of a Beverly Hills doctor, she married Alfred S. Bloomingdale — heir to the New York department store fortune — in 1946.

She patronized the hottest of haute couture designers in Europe and regularly made best-dressed lists. In 1976, she was fined after pleading guilty to altering an invoice to undervalue the price of imported Dior gowns.

Her home had 11 closets. She was quoted on style by fashion magazines and designed loungewear for the Swirl brand in the 1980s.

She also lectured on style.

“She maintained that the quality of one’s lifestyle does not necessarily depend on wealth; that a sense of style and taste are acquired with knowledge, not money,” according to an obituary from her family.

“She’s really a fashion icon,” the designer James Galanos told Women’s Wear Daily in 2009. “She still has a great figure. She’s tall and willowy. She knows what’s stylish and what suits her.”

When not jet-setting to Europe to shop or visit royalty, Bloomingdale was renowned for hosting parties — many for charity — at the family’s Los Angeles mansion, where neighbors included celebrities such as Barbra Streisand.

She was a guest in 1981 at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.

Bloomingdale and her husband were good friends for decades with the Reagans. Bloomingdale was among the friends in Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet” who served as unofficial advisers and helped propel the actor to the presidency.

She was best friends with the first lady, dispensing tips on fashion and design.

The Bloomingdales were regulars in get-togethers at the Reagans’ California ranch and the White House and she remained close to Nancy Reagan after Ronald Reagan died in 2004.

“Like any widow, she adjusted,” Bloomingdale told People magazine this year. “But Nancy missed Ronnie terribly and always.”

When her own husband died of cancer in 1982, Bloomingdale became embroiled in a scandal after his longtime mistress, Vicki Morgan, sued her and the estate, contending she had been promised lifetime support. The suit was later dismissed.

Bloomingdale’s deep Roman Catholic faith and her own toughness helped her cope with the scandal, her daughter-in-law said.

“She was just an amazing woman,” Justine Bloomingdale said. “She just held her head up high and kept moving.”

An only child, Bloomingdale was thrilled to belong to a large family and “she always entertained everybody at every holiday,” her daughter-in-law said.

Bloomingdale is survived by her sons, Geoffrey and Robert; a daughter, Lisa Bell, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

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