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Philanthropist Brooke Astor Dies At 105

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Socialite, civic leader and philanthropist Brooke Astor has died at the age of 105.

Family layer Kenneth Warner said Astor died yesterday of pneumonia at her suburban estate.

"My mother was a wonderful person,” said her son Anthony Marshall. “I loved her very much and she was a lady for New York and the world."

Throughout her lifetime she donated nearly $200 million of her late husband's fortune to various New York charities.

Those charities included what she called the "crown jewels" of the city: the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, the Museum of Natural History, Central Park and the Bronx Zoo. She also worked with smaller projects around the city, such as the Apollo Theater.

Marshall believed it was the people who benefited from those institutions that inspired her to give.

"I went with her on many trips that she took to various projects," said Marshall. "She loved to sit down and find out what the people wanted, how they lived, and who they were."

The flags were lowered in Astor's memory at several institutions that she donated to, including the Met.

"She used to like to see the people come in. That's what meant everything to her, not only the marble, not only the art, but to make sure people were inspired and enlightened by what was inside these doors,” said Harold Holzer of the Met.

"She knew first-hand that reading opens all types of doors and inspires imagination, makes you learn and gives you good pleasure and that was one of the central passions of her life," said Paul Le Clerc of the New York Public Library.

In 1998, she was awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor for her generosity.

Astor's finances, estimated to total around $131 million, as well as her care in her later years, were the center of a legal battle that has raged among family members for years.

Her grandson said she was forced to live in the filthy conditions. In the end, the courts replaced Marshall as her guardian but did not find enough evidence to charge him with elder abuse.

Marshall maintains the accusations are false.

"Which is certainly not the case,” he said. “I was treating her very well and so was my wife Charlene.”

Vincent Astor, her third husband, was the chairman of the board of Newsweek magazine, and one of the richest Americans at the time of death in 1959. He was the son of millionaire businessman John Jacob Astor IV, who died in the sinking of the Titanic.

Brooke Astor is survived by her son and two grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for Friday at 2:30 p.m. at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church.
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