The Last Deb Hope Scott, The Main Line Socialite Who Was Immortalized In 'The Philadelphia Story,' Is Dead At 90 Hope Montgomery Scott Dies Falls Are Fatal To Socialite, 90

Posted: January 10, 1995

It is the end of an era.

The fun-loving, Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, Philadelphia's elegant Main Line socialite and award-winning farmer, who celebrated her 90th birthday last May donning pigtail wigs with her sister to sing "The Baby Sister Blues" at a fund-raiser at her Villanova estate, died yesterday.

She had dined with Winston Churchill on Aristotle Onassis' yacht, danced with the Duke of Windsor at the Stork Club, lunched at the "21 Club," and lived through the 20th century's "golden age" in a 50-room mansion on the last of the large suburban Philadelphia estates, the 750-acre Ardrossa in Villanova.

Portrayed by both Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story" and by Grace Kelly in "High Society," she always looked the debutante, slim and erect, though she never put on airs. She greeted each person warmly, as though a friend for life.

"She had a marvelous life, even though she had two hips replaced and was not able to walk from time to time," said her son, Robert Montgomery Scott, president of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Like the Tracy Lord character based on her life, she once told an interviewer "I'm a pretty independent thinker . . . Like Tracy Lord, I just

went my own way."

On Sunday, she was doing it her way. It was such a lovely day she decided to take her two donkeys into the stable yard, even though one of her 11 farmhands had offered to do so. It was about 5:15 p.m.

Her son said the donkeys became entangled in the stable yard. "She fell, hitting her head. She put the donkeys in their stalls, and then went upstairs to have her hair cut by Kathy Early about 6:15 p.m.," he said.

At 6:40 p.m., Scott stopped by his mother's room to see her for his usual visit, but "there was no sign of her having a nap," he said. "She had fallen on the bathroom floor. The last conscious thing she did was reach for my hand and give me a kiss," said Scott.

The rescue squad arrived in 6 minutes and within 43 minutes, she was rushed 16 miles to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, accompanied by her grandniece, Mary. She had a catscan and was immediately operated on for an epidermal hematoma, a blood clot on the brain.

She died at 3:10 p.m. yesterday at the hospital, having never regained consciousness, he said.

Walter Annenberg, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James in London, said, "My wife and I were very close to Hope and Edgar, her husband. He respected her personality, her joy of life to a degree that was moving. And he relied on her. His whole life was wrapped up in her as well. He's 96 and you can imagine what a jolt this is for him," said Annenberg.

The daughter of Col. Robert Leaming Montgomery and Charlotte Hope Binney (nee) Tyler, Hope Scott was born on April 8, 1904 and graduated from the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Va.

At her 1922 debut in Philadelphia society, four men offered proposals of marriage. She turned them all down.

She later married Edgar Scott, heir to the Pennsylvania Railroad fortune and a distant relative of the painter, Mary Cassatt. It was the Society Wedding of the Year.

"She's very natural and real, not a bit snobbish," her longtime friend, Gloria Etting, once said. "She leaves a wonderful impression on everyone."

"She was the essence of elegance and warmth, a lady in the ultimate sense of the word," recalled Common Pleas Judge Lisa A. Richette last night. "I really adored and admired that woman."

Hope Scott may have inherited her father's drive. At 17, he worked as a clerk when he resolved to make a fortune and restore his branch of Montgomerys to glory.

At 30, he had accumulated enough money to hire architect Horace Trumbauer, the designer of the Philadelphia Museum, to build the 50-room Georgian mansion, on land he had acquired in Villanova.

"I'm an Aries," Hope Scott once declared. "And we're known for making our own decisions. I imagine I may have shocked some people in my day, but I never meant to. I've gone to races in an evening gown. Once I got locked in the rumble seat of a car - with a British trainer no less."

Scott, an intimate of blue bloods named Cadwalader, Biddle and Drexel and celebrities like Claudette Colbert, Marietta Tree and Kitty Carlisle Hart, recalled growing up in "a golden age.

"Everybody had so much more money - there were so few taxes you see. People gave grand dinner parties and dances; women wore wonderful dresses and men came in fine evening clothes. Usually there would be two orchestras - a swing band and Hungarian music - and there would be divine food like terrapin and champagne . . . Oh! But we had fun."

Scott recalled how surprised she and her husband, a prominent Philadelphia investment banker who once headed the World Affairs Council, were when author Phillip Barry told them about his new work.

Barry, an usher at the Scott's 1923 wedding, dedicated his famous play ''The Philadelphia Story" to the couple at its opening at the Shubert Theatre in New York City on March 28, 1939.

"We were thrilled," she said. "But I was amazed because I didn't think we were all that interesting to write about.

Scott began riding horses at the age of 4 and started competing in the Devon Horse Show at 13. She became one of the best-known equestrians in the English-speaking world.

She was the first woman in the country to judge a National Horse Show and the first woman to be honored by the all-male Professional Horseman's Association. Ever since, she has served in every position at the Devon Horse Show, sometimes several at once.

"I was brought up with horse and cattle. Some of the people I know have never seen me in anything but faded jeans and sweaters. Others know me only in fashionable stuff. But holy cats, I'm me whatever I wear," she told an interviewer.

"I've been living a double life for a long time," she said.

"It keeps me from getting stale."

She designed most of her dresses. "Always have, always will. It makes for originality."

In 1959, she received numerous votes as one of the world's best dressed women by the New York Couture Group, along with other Philadelphia women like her friend, Mrs. Walter Annenberg.

More than 30 years ago, she took over her father's prize-winning herd of Ayrshire cows, started in 1910 with nine imported cows.

Under her care, it grew to 340, becoming one of the most successful, largest, milk-producing, award-winning Ayrshire herds in the world.

She named each cow. And for many years, she carried her "Herd Book" wherever she went, and received daily reports about what each cow ate, the milk it produced and how it was breeding. The herd produced three and a half tons of milk a day, which was sold to WaWa Dairies.

At 90, she still rose as early as 5 a.m. to oversee the farm, its crop rotation from barley to oats, the cows being milked. No detail was too mundane.

Yesterday, her 11 employees each had a story about Hope Scott for her son, especially how she silently helped them whenever they had problems.

"Everyone was her extended family," said Margaret Everett, who was visiting the Scott family estate.

She was very proud of her family. She boasted of the work of her granddaughter, Janney Scott, 39, a New York Times reporter who covered last year's death of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a personal friend.

Sunday's accident was not Hope Scott's first brush with such injries. She suffered several injuries in riding accidents, including a 1937 concussion

from a fall from a horse and a broken nose in 1940 when she was thrown and kicked by a horse in a fox hunt in Chester County. Yet she gamely got back in the race.

She was forced to give up the hunt eventually because of surgery to insert ''two steel hips."

As Hope Scott once revealed, "I never was the sort of woman who liked to sit around and have lunches and play bridge."

Besides her husband, she is survived by her two sons, Robert Montgomery Scott and Edgar Scott Jr., a retired investment banker, a sister, a brother, five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

Services will be held at 4 p.m. at St. David's Church in Radnor. Interment will follow in the church cemetery.

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