Alexandra Ewing Whitney
Mrs. Alexandra E. Whitney (Alexandra Ewing), 86, died peacefully at her home in New York on November 30, 2014.
Mrs. Whitney was born in New York on December 14, 1927, to Mr. and Mrs. Gifford Cochran Ewing (Frances Riker). Known as Axie, she grew up in New York and Southport, CT, and attended Miss Porter’s School, The Foxcroft School, and Bennington College. In 1948, she met Harry Payne Whitney II on the platform while waiting for a train to take her back to Bennington. She left Bennington after completing her sophomore year, eloped with Harry, and moved to New Haven, where he was completing his studies at Yale.
In 1950, their first son, Gifford Cochran Whitney, was born and the family moved to Philadelphia, where Harry was a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Two other children followed: Nancy Marie in 1952 and Cornelius Scollay in 1954. While in Philadelphia, in addition to raising three children, Axie also assisted Harry with his hobbies of car and motorcycle racing, often serving as timekeeper, navigator and driver of the equipment vehicle—an old hearse that Harry had stripped of its rear seats in order to store tools. Axie and Harry enjoyed a somewhat unconventional lifestyle that matched their colorful personalities. She used the hearse as a carpool vehicle to ferry children to and from Chestnut Hill Academy and Springside School. The other family car was a large panel station wagon with an engine powerfully “souped-up” by Harry. Axie recalled that occasionally, when cars would stop at traffic lights, the drivers glancing over to see a young, attractive woman at the wheel, she was tempted into drag racing with the wagon. “I put the car in park, revved the engine, floored the gas pedal and pulled the lever into drive when the light changed.” She never failed to leap past the other car. “It took almost nothing for that car to get up to 80, 90, miles per hour.” Once, when pulled over by a highway patrolman, Axie burst into tears and opened the hood of the car for the officer, who was so impressed with the engine that he let her go without issuing a ticket.
In 1965, following her separation from Harry, Axie moved with their children to Rancho Santa Fe, CA, where her father was an oceanographer and hotelier. That same year, she became a wine buyer for his hotel. In 1967, the family returned to the East Coast, moving to New York, where Axie would remain for the rest of her life. She took full advantage of the art and music venues that New York offered. She studied drawing and held a weekly drawing class in her apartment for many years, but it was in sculpture that she ultimately found a profession. She realized she had a great gift for capturing a likeness in clay; from the 1970s onward, Axie was commissioned to do bronze busts of many notable figures, including Averill Harriman, Henry Luce, J.P. Donleavy, and Frank Boyden, headmaster of Deerfield. She became the official sculptor for the Mets Hall of Fame and went on to make thirty busts of Hall of Famers, including Keith Hernandez, Tug McGraw, and Cleon Jones. The busts now reside in the Cooperstown Museum of Baseball.
Axie was close to Michael Forrestal, attorney and political adviser to President John F. Kennedy; together they were regular patrons at the Metropolitan Opera. She also hosted parties with Charles Addams, the cartoonist known for his dark humor and macabre characters, famously including The Addams Family; these events invariably were colorful and unconventional. Axie’s warmth as a hostess and loyalty to old friends ensured that she had a large circle of constant companions. In later years, she held dog birthday parties for friends with canines she met in Central Park, and was a hostess of holiday, engagement and birthday parties. For many years, Axie summered in Barney’s Joy, MA, as well as in Sorrento, ME.
Alexandra Whitney is survived by her daughter, Nancy Marie Whitney of Naxos, Greece; her son, C. Scollay Whitney of Chapel Hill, NC; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her eldest son, Gifford, predeceased her in 2004. A memorial service for Axie was held on June 4, 2015, at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York. She was buried next to her son and father in Sorrento this past August.