Carroll Petrie, known for her cool beauty, understated style and good works, died Jan. 22 at the age of 90.
The fourth time was the charm for her and her husband, Petrie Stores founder and philanthropist Milton Petrie, whom she married in 1978. Each had been married three times before. Born in Greenville, S.C., to Helen and William McDaniel, Carroll Petrie went to Converse College, then moved to New York and became a model. Her first husband was Alfonso, the Marqués de Portago, whom she married when he was 20 and with whom she had two children, Andrea and the late Anthony de Portago. Petrie spent most of the Fifties with de Portago, known as Fons, a wealthy aristocrat, in Paris. He, his fellow driver and 10 spectators died in a fiery car crash during an Italian car race in 1957.
Her next two marriages ended in divorce. She met Petrie, who was 30 years her senior, in 1977, and married him the next year.
When Milton Petrie died, in 1994, at the age of 92, he left his widow with the income from a trust fund, which spun off an estimated $10 million a year, along with $5 million in cash, two dwellings, including a Fifth Avenue apartment, and made her one of the trustees of his foundation, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation. The foundation had an initial funding estimated by The New York Times to be $300 million to $400 million, the bulk of it in Petrie Stores stock. The couple’s wide-ranging philanthropic activities included underwriting the Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and making major contributions to Beth Israel Medical Center, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Museum of Modern Art and the Parrish Art Museum. Petrie herself had a particular passion for animal charities and had her own Carroll Petrie Foundation Dog Rescue Project at the ASPCA. She also gave generously to her alma mater. Her fourth husband, meanwhile, was a real-life Daddy Warbucks, who often read about someone in need, swooped down and sent them money. He remembered 343 people in his 120-page will.
“As a person, she was utterly charming and fun,” said Aileen Mehle, who, under the name Suzy, wrote a much-read gossip column for decades, including at WWD and its then-sister publication W. Mehle often chronicled the parties and charitable activities of Petrie, whom she described as “one of my best friends,” adding, “She went everywhere. She was a great beauty and extremely elegant. She had a very, very Southern accent. She had many friends. She had a good sense of humor. She was a social hostess and gave many parties. It was fun to be there.”
Petrie received a wide array of honors for her charitable work, including honorary doctorates from the New York Institute of Technology and Long Island University. In 1987, she received a Spanish decoration, the Medal of Honor of the Order of Isabel La Católica.
She is survived by her daughter Andrea Portago, as well as her granddaughters, Theodora Portago, Marquesa de Portago and Carolina Portago; Antonia Portago and her nieces, Camille Manning and Carroll Wilson. Instead of flowers, donations may be sent to the ASPCA, Attn.: Gift Processing Center, In Memory of Mrs. Carroll Petrie, 424 East 92nd Street, New York, New York 10128 or Converse College, Attn.: Petrie School of Music, In Memory of Mrs. Carroll Petrie, 580 East Main Street, Spartanburg, SC 29302. Visitation will be held on Tuesday, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at Madison Avenue and 81st Street. A funeral will be held for family and close friends on Wednesday at 10 a.m. at The Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer at Lexington Avenue and 66th Street.