Billionaire, friend of ‘royals’ and celebs and with a biography of glories and tragedies, Lily Safra dies at 87

Died this Saturday, in Geneva, Switzerland, the Brazilian who most prominently walked the exclusive paths of the international grand monde: Lily Safra, whose life story is one of those that would make a movie. According to her advice, Lily could not resist the complications of pancreatic cancer that she had been fighting for some time. She was 87 years old, and leaves two children, Adriana and Eduardo, both fruits of her first marriage to the Argentine textile industry magnate Mario Cohen, which lasted between 1952 and 1960. The couple also had Cláudio, who was killed in a car accident in 1989, the first of the great traumas of the trajectory filled with moments of splendor and moments of tragedy of the gaúcha born on December 30, 1934, in Porto Alegre, and baptized Lily Watkins.

Daughter of a Uruguayan mother of Russian descent and a Czech father, a railway engineer, who moved to Brazil in the early 1930s, Lily was raised in an upper-middle-class environment, as were the girls of her time with the same condition, and to be a housewife and wife – which the legendary socialite masterfully did at four different times. After the end of her marriage with Mario, with whom she lived in Buenos Aires, Lily moved to Rio de Janeiro, where she met Alfredo Monteverde, founder of the Ponto Frio appliance store chain and called “Freddy” by his closest friends. The two exchanged alliances in 1964, and stayed together until 1969, when the businessman shot himself in the chest – this, therefore, was her second trauma.

Shortly before, however, Alfredo stipulated in his will that Lily should be the sole heir to his fortune, then estimated at US$150 million. His family screamed, in vain, and even questioned the circumstances of her death, which was investigated. But nothing wrong was discovered. A multimillionaire and, at that point, already known as one of the best hostesses in high carioca, Lily wanted to get married again, but feared that she would end up finding a gold digger who wanted her just because of her millions. Chance, however, put banker Edmond Safra in his path, who, over 40 years old, was looking for a woman but had the same fear of suffering a blow from the trunk.

They say their meeting was a “love at first sight” type, but Edmond was a little reluctant to “speed up” the situation. Impatient, but also very knowledgeable, Lily would have given her ultimatum to the suitor in the best way: marrying, in 1972, to British bon vivant Samuel Bendahan, supposedly just to make the man she was actually interested in jealousy and, above all, everything in order to force him to take action. It worked, the union with Bendahan lasted less than a year and, after a few more serious relationships with Edmond, they finally made their relationship official in 1976. In addition to the security of being with someone who didn’t want her because of her money, including for being much wealthier, Edmond had one more attraction that pleased Lily: free passage through the high international circles.

With their residences around the world, Lily and Edmond have become mythical in that small club of people who live as if they were in a fairy tale, hosting banquets for royals, powerful politicians, moguls of all industries, Hollywood stars and there you go. One of the most emblematic riffs once made the jaw drop of another Lily who also mastered the art of receiving, Marinho, who was married to Roberto Marinho, founder of Globo. “I sat next to Prince Philip [o falecido marido da rainha Elizabeth II]and then I learned that more than US$ 50,000 (R$ 263,000) was spent on flowers alone”, recalled decades later the last resident of the Cosme Velho mansion about a dinner in Lily and Edmond’s duplex overlooking the Mediterranean , in Monaco, where he was present in the 1970s.

The same address for a few, known as “La Belle Époque”, ended up being the scene of the third great tragedy of Lily’s life, without a doubt the greatest of all, which was the death of Edmond, in 1999, in an arson caused by the American nurse Ted Maher, full-time caretaker for the finance baron, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Maher, with his boss’s well-known generosity in mind, orchestrated a fake heist he planned to emerge as a hero out of saving Edmond, but a small fire he threw into a garbage can, part of the bizarre idea, got out of hand and ended up breaking out of control. spreading across the property. Fearing that he was the victim of an attack ordered by some disaffected, Edmond locked himself in a bathroom that functioned as a panic room and died of asphyxiation because of the smoke that spread through the place. When found lifeless, the widow asked to be left alone with her body briefly.

Lily inherited the smallest part of Edmond’s estate, enough to make her a billionaire in dollars, and the rest went to the philanthropic foundation that bears both their names, which she controlled in the wake of the fatal tragedy. Estimates of her fortune have always varied, ranging from $1.3 billion (R$6.8 billion) to $4.7 billion (R$24.7 billion). “Too Much Money”, or “Too Much Money”, as Dominick Dunne would say, a journalist at “Vanity Fair” who wrote about the 1% of the 1% and titled one of his books, supposedly a “roman à clef” inspired by the story of Lily and Edmond, with that phrase. “There are no more than a hundred people in the world who live like the Safras”, Dominick, who died in 2009, wrote in one of his many long texts about the most famous members of the Safra family, represented in these parts by the also deceased brothers of Edmond, Joseph and Moise Safra.

Edmond was buried in a Geneva cemetery, the same in which Lily’s remains will be buried after her funeral, scheduled for next Monday. The billionaire lived on Swiss land for more than 20 years, after gaining Monegasque citizenship given to her by Rainier III, the head of state of Monaco who died in 2005 and a close friend of Edmond’s, as a treat for the loss of her beloved. . Lily’s friends, incidentally, also included some royals like Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles, as well as celebrities like her New York apartment neighbor Joan Rivers, pop star Elton John and Hollywood star Michael J. Fox. All of them have received millions of dollars in donations from Lily to their respective heartfelt causes, and are likely to be graced with many more to come from the bff estate.

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