Heiress as­sumed many iden­ti­ties, en­dured hard­ship in years of giv­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY MATT SCHUDEL schudelm@wash­post.com

One Christ­mas Eve, Nathan Bax­ter, the for­mer dean of Wash­ing­tonNa­tional Cathe­dral, was in his study and left in­struc­tions not to be dis­turbed while he pre­pared his Christ­mas ser­mon. Awhile later, his sec­re­tary in­ter­rupted to say a woman had come to see him.

Bax­ter said he was busy, but his sec­re­tary said she had a feel­ing he’d want to see this vis­i­tor. It was Is­abelle Scott, who handed Bax­ter an en­ve­lope. He no­ticed that it con­tained a check, of­fered his thanks and was re­turn­ing to his ser­mon when he took a closer look. The check was for $1 mil­lion. With that gift, Ms. Scott es­tab­lished the Girl Cho­ris­ters for stu­dents at Na­tional Cathe­dral School, from which she had grad­u­ated in 1958. When the group was formed in 1997, it be­came one of the first girls’ choirs at an Epis­co­pal cathe­dral in the United States.

When the cho­ris­ters gave con­certs or sang at re­li­gious ser­vices, Ms. Scott of­ten at­tended. But she al­ways stayed in the back­ground and never in­ter­acted with the girls.

“She was al­ways dis­creet,” Michael McCarthy, the Na­tional Cathe­dral’s di­rec­tor of mu­sic and the leader of the cho­ris­ters, said Satur­day. “She would al­ways stand far off. The girls had no idea. She was re­ferred to as the guardian an­gel.”

The Girl Cho­ris­ters did not learn the iden­tity of their guardian an­gel un­til Ms. Scott died of leukemia on Nov. 15 at her home in the District. In the months be­fore her death at age 70, Ms. Scott gave an ad­di­tional $3 mil­lion to cre­ate an en­dow­ment for the cho­ris­ters and pro­vide schol­ar­ships for girls in the group.

“It was a legacy she felt she had to leave,” McCarthy said. “She was very aware of other peo­ple’s needs. It was strik­ing, the im­pact she had.”

In the fi­nal five years of a life re­mark­able for its chal­lenges, set­backs and tri­umphs, Ms. Scott be­came de­voted to mu­sic. As well as sup­port­ing the Girls Cho­ris­ters, she be­came a singer in her own right.

She be­gan tak­ing vo­cal lessons with ac­claimed so­prano Rosa Lamore­aux, who started her at a child’s level by teach­ing her “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Af­ter three years, Ms. Scott was able to au­di­tion for the Na­tional Cathe­dral’s vol­un­teer choir, the Cathe­dral Voices. She was ac­cepted.

About two years ago, she took up the pi­ano, yet no one close to her — not her teach­ers, not her choir di­rec­tor, not her fel­low singers — fully un­der­stood how great that achieve­ment was: Is­abelle Scott, it turns out, was deaf.

With the help of pow­er­ful hear­ing aids, which she con­cealed be­neath her shoul­der-length hair, and by teach­ing her­self to read lips, she man­aged to com­pen­sate so well for her hear­ing loss that most peo­ple in her life— many of whom knew her for years — had no idea.

“I had no knowl­edge of her hear­ing is­sues,” said McCarthy, who au­di­tioned Ms. Scott for the Cathe­dral Voices and who had pre­vi­ously kept the se­cret of her anony­mous do­na­tion to the Girl Cho­ris­ters.

Her deaf­ness and her anony­mous phi­lan­thropy were only two of the many sur­pris­ing se­crets about Ms. Scott. First of all, Is­abelle Scott was not her real — or at least not her orig­i­nal — name.

She was born Fredrica Linda Lehrman in Washington on Oct. 16, 1940. When you ac­count for her three mar­riages, she was Fredrica Lehrman Rosen­berg Saun­ders Carmichael be­fore legally chang­ing her name in the late 1990s.

She grewup in one ofWash­ing­ton’s most prom­i­nent Jewish fam­i­lies and was the old­est grand­child of Sa­muel Lehrman, a found­ing part­ner of the Gi­ant Food gro­cery chain. She ended up as a con­firmed Epis­co­palian, but even in death there were traces of her mixed iden­tity. Af­ter a grand fu­neral at theNa­tional Cathe­dral, the fam­ily went to Ms. Scott’s home nearby to ob­serve the Jewish fu­neral rite of shiva.

She was an heiress “eas­ily worth $100 mil­lion,” ac­cord­ing to pub­lished re­ports, who wore bo­hemian out­fits and drove a bea­tup Volvo sta­tion wagon. Be­fore her emer­gence as a bene­fac­tor of sa­cred mu­sic at the Na­tional Cathe­dral, she was at var­i­ous times a col­lege English pro­fes­sor, a lawyer, an ad­vo­cate for abused women and, in 1989, a cen­tral fig­ure in one of the most no­to­ri­ous divorce tri­als in Washington his­tory.

As the old­est child of Ja­cob Lehrman, who joined his fa­ther as an of­fi­cer of Gi­ant Food at its found­ing in 1936, Ms. Scott felt out of place as a child. Her fam­ily did not re­al­ize she was deaf un­til she was in the sec­ond grade.

In the mean­time, her younger sis­ter Heidi be­came the fam­ily dar­ling, and baked goods at Gi­ant were named in her honor. Later in life, as Heidi Berry, she be­came a well-known arts pa­tron in Washington. She died in 2009. Two broth­ers, Sam Lehrman and Robert Lehrman, still live in the District.

When ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ments failed to cure Ms. Scott’s deaf­ness, she be­gan to wear an awk­ward hear­ing aid con­nected to a box on a ta­ble. She im­mersed her­self in read­ing and, af­ter en­ter­ing Na­tional Cathe­dral School in the sev­enth grade, wrote for the school’s lit­er­ary mag­a­zine.

“I sat in the front row,” she re­called, “I lip-read, and I paid care­ful at­ten­tion and I stud­ied very, very hard.”

Her class­mates re­called that she of­ten wore her socks pulled high, and only a few knew that they hid yet an­other ofMs. Scott’s painful se­crets: the bruises she re­ceived at the hands of her fa­ther.

Ac­cord­ing to le­gal doc­u­ments, Ms. Scott en­dured Ja­cob Lehrman’s rage in the form of phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse. It wasn’t un­til Ms. Scott was in her late teens that the abuse came to an end.

Re­turn­ing home from a date af­ter mid­night, she was met by her an­gry fa­ther, who stood 6foot-7 and weighed 280 pounds. The next day, when Ms. Scott’s boyfriend, Barry Rosen­berg, stopped by to see her, a maid said she could not come out. Rosen­berg man­aged to glimpse Ms. Scott through a door and sawthat her face was swollen and bruised.

A burly ac­tive-duty sol­dier and for­mer foot­ball player at the Uni­ver­sity of Ge­or­gia, Rosen­berg forced his way into the house and con­fronted Ja­cob Lehrman, warn­ing the gro­cery mag­nate never to lay a hand on his daugh­ter again. Ms. Scott dropped out of Vas­sar to marry Rosen­berg in 1959, one month be­fore her 19th birth­day.

They had a son, Scott, in 1963, and Ms. Scott — then Mrs. Rosen­berg — con­tin­ued her ed­u­ca­tion. She grad­u­ated from Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity in 1962 and re­ceived mas­ter’s de­grees in me­dieval his­tory and English lit­er­a­ture from the Uni­ver­sity ofMary­land in the mid-1960s. She then moved to Char­lottesville with her fam­ily and re­ceived a PhD in English from the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia in 1969, writ­ing her dis­ser­ta­tion on John Mil­ton’s de­pic­tion of Satan in “Par­adise Lost.” It was called “A Study in Tyranny.”

Land­mark divorce case

In the 1970s, Ms. Scott taught English at Ge­orge Washington and Howard uni­ver­si­ties and di­vorced her first hus­band. She mar­ried Richard Saun­ders, a French pro­fes­sor at Howard, and briefly con­tem­plated at­tend­ing med­i­cal school.

In 1982, she be­gan to see a psy­chother­a­pist in Washington named Dou­glass Carmichael, whose clien­tele in­cluded the city’s so­cial and po­lit­i­cal elite. Carmichael and Ms. Scott soon be­gan an af­fair, and in short or­der she di­vorced her sec­ond hus­band. She and Carmichael were mar­ried in Jan­uary 1983. She paid for the wed­ding.

Ms. Scott had al­ways been un­os­ten­ta­tious with her wealth, but with Carmichael, she sud­denly be­came ex­trav­a­gant. They bought jew­els and fur coats, ex­pen­sive cars, a $2.7 mil­lion house on Martha’s Vine­yard and an­other house in­Maine. They bought a $515,000 house in the District, then sank $2.5 mil­lion into ren­o­va­tions.

Un­der Carmichael’s in­flu­ence, Ms. Scott’s per­son­al­ity seemed to change. Her son dis­cov­ered di­aries in which she wrote that all she wanted from her hus­band was a sin­gle rose. In­stead, in a bizarre twist, she ended up send­ing him a large bou­quet ev­ery week.

Once, when she reached for her car reg­is­tra­tion af­ter be­ing stopped for speed­ing, she saw that the car was reg­is­tered in Carmichael’s name, even though she had paid for it. He was hav­ing an af­fair with an­other woman.

Fi­nally, in 1988, Ms. Scott reached her limit. She rewrote her will, froze her bank ac­counts and changed the locks on her house. The 1989 divorce trial, as re­told in a 1991 ar­ti­cle in Re­gardie’s mag­a­zine, was a court­room spec­ta­cle. In a novel move, Ms. Scott’s lawyer, El­iz­a­beth Guhring, charged Carmichael with mal­prac­tice for sleep­ing with Ms. Scott while she was his pa­tient. She evoked the 1944 film “Gaslight,” in which a man tries to drive his wife in­sane to in­herit her for­tune.

About the kind­est things that wit­nesses could say of Carmichael were that he was a pre­ten­tious, schem­ing, self-in­fat­u­ated, ma­nip­u­la­tive dilet­tante. In his fi­nal rul­ing, Judge Cur­tis E. von Kann called him “a for­tune hunter” who “ tells know­ing false­hoods.”

In grant­ing the divorce, the judge fined Carmichael $1 mil­lion— later over­turned on ap­peal — and ruled that Carmichael had com­mit­ted mal­prac­tice.

Ms. Scott went from the court­room to law school, grad­u­at­ing from Catholic Uni­ver­sity in 1992. Re­vert­ing to her maiden name, she worked pro bono on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases, di­rected a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence project for the As­so­ci­a­tion of Trial Lawyers of Amer­ica, lec­tured and ap­peared on na­tional pan­els.

In April, Ms. Scott re­vealed to friends that her long-dor­mant leukemia had flared up and she had weeks to live. Her son, Scott Rosen­berg, came to Washington from New York to care for her. Other sur­vivors in­clude two grand­chil­dren.

As the weeks stretched into months, Ms. Scott made her fi­nal be­quests. Her son es­ti­mates that she gave away at least $25 mil­lion of her for­tune, all in anony­mous do­na­tions.

On her 70th birth­day in Oc­to­ber, friends sent Ms. Scott a gift she had al­ways hoped for: She was show­ered with rose petals.

FAM­ILY PHOTO

Is­abelle Scott, left, was deaf, but many of the peo­ple clos­est to her did not know about her dis­abil­ity.

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