ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN
(Editor's note: This article first appeared on February 3, 2010 .... with John Edwards back in the news .. the article is being reprinted.)
Edwards' Sordid Affair Comes to Rokeby Farm
June 3, 2010
Amidst the seediness of the John Edwards' affair was the Rokeby Farm connection in Upperville, Virginia - a small farming village which is home to some of the country’s most influential families.
It is only sixty miles west of Washington D.C., and arguably one of the most beautiful and charming areas in the country. It’s rolling hills and country roads are breathtaking.
Upperville is a throw back in time. It’s southern living. There is no McDonald’s. No Starbucks. No traffic lights and no cell towers
This is the Piedmont Hunt region of Virginia, where old money and manicured fence lines have co-existed for years. It’s an area for the wealthy and gentleman farmer, where acreage is more impressive than political connections.
This was where John and Jackie Kennedy spent weekends during their White House years. Lyndon Johnson was a frequent visitor, and Ronald Reagan rented a house here while he was a candidate for President.
The area is simply called Middleburg - which is the closest town with a bank, a restaurant, and a grocery store, but few actually live within the town limits.
Most live on large estates along dusty back roads that wind through pristine farmland. No one typified the cache of Middleburg more than Paul Mellon - a man widely known throughout the world as a lifelong billionaire philanthropist, art collector, thoroughbred horse breeder, and environmental protector.
He was the son of wealthy industrialist and Pittsburgh banker Andrew W. Mellon, who served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and Ambassador to the Court of St. James, during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.
Paul Mellon lived at Rokeby, a 4,000 acre horse farm, which for years bred some of the finest racehorses in the world. His horses included Sea Hero, 1993 Kentucky Derby winner; Arts and Letters, 1969 winner of the Belmont Stakes, and a close second to Majestic Prince in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness; Quadrangle, a Belmont Stakes winner; and Mill Reef, who may have been the finest racehorse ever.
Originally situated on 400 acres, Rokeby was first purchased by Andrew Mellon in 1930 for his wife, an avid horsewoman. Their son Paul purchased the property from her in 1936, and continued to expand its boundaries through the purchase of surrounding farms throughout the 1940's and 50's.
Mellon spent his life in philanthropy, and was married for over 50 years to his second wife Rachel, or "Bunny" as she is commonly called. She was a great friend to Jackie Kennedy Onassis and designed the Rose Garden in the White House during the Kennedy years; and later - with Jackie - the Arlington gravesites of President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
In his memoir, Reflections in a Silver Spoon, Mellon said the greatest advantage to having his kind of wealth was the privacy it provided.
Thus, it was jarring when the seedy details of the money connection between Bunny Mellon and the John Edwards for President Campaign became public. Apparently, Mrs. Mellon was a major financial backer of Edwards’ various organizations, principally supporting his goal to fight worldwide poverty.
But it was $750,000 in political contributions from the 99-year-old Mrs. Mellon that received the most press attention - money solicited during frequent visits to Rokeby Farm from Edwards staffers.
Unbeknownst to Mrs. Mellon, some of that money was used to conceal the sexual affair between Edwards, and campaign staffer, Rielle Hunter, which resulted in the birth of a daughter. Edwards and his campaign are under federal investigation, and the entire affair is receiving national press attention.
Paul Mellon died in 1999 at the age of 91. He was an immensely private man, and there’s little doubt what he would have thought of the Edwards-Rokeby connection.
It was a philanthropic contribution he could have done without.