Wednesday 18 September 2019

Obituary: Caroline Hunt

Texan oil heiress who became one of America's richest women

HOTELIER: Caroline Hunthis
HOTELIER: Caroline Hunthis

Caroline Hunt, who has died aged 95, was one of America's richest women, having inherited an oil fortune and created a successful hotel business.

Caroline was the second daughter, and third of seven legitimate children, of Haroldson Lafayette Hunt (1889-1974), an oil tycoon who gained control of the East Texas field that was once the world's largest known oil deposit - and whose fortune almost matched that of his contemporary and fellow oilman J Paul Getty.

HL Hunt also fathered eight more children outside his marriage to Lydia Bunker, four by a bigamous wife and four by a mistress whom he eventually married after Lydia's death; he was often cited as a model for the character of J R Ewing in the television drama Dallas.

A church-going Texan matriarch noted for her gracious manners, Caroline Hunt relied on prudent advisers to steward her $600m portion of her father's estate and invest it across a range of businesses - rather than throwing in her lot with her high-rolling brothers Nelson Bunker Hunt and William Herbert Hunt, who in the late 1970s set out to corner the world silver market but suffered huge losses after the silver price collapsed. By the mid-1980s, as her brothers headed for the bankruptcy courts, Caroline was said to have doubled her inheritance and become the richest of the dynasty.

In 1979, her company, Rosewood Corporation, had acquired the Mansion on Turtle Creek - a historic private estate in Dallas - and set out to develop it as a hotel. A portfolio of luxurious Rosewood hotels were to follow around the world, including the Carlyle in Manhattan and the Lanesborough, opened in the former St George's Hospital building at London's Hyde Park Corner in 1991, for which Caroline Hunt herself was said to have scoured provincial England to find suitable antique furnishings.

Caroline Rose Hunt was born at El Dorado, Arkansas, on January 8, 1923, and was brought up at Tyler in East Texas. She was educated at Hockaday School in Dallas and Mary Baldwin School in Virginia before studying English and Art History at the University of Texas.

Though she worked as a young woman in her father's office and at the Neiman Marcus department store in Dallas, Caroline Hunt had little hands-on involvement in business until her mid-50s, when the development of the hotel chain engaged her interest and tastes. She remained honorary chairman of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, of which her children were also directors, until it was sold to a Hong Kong company for $230m in 2011.

One profile described Caroline Hunt as "the kind of woman who prunes her own trees, cooks her own dinner and enjoys finding a bargain when she is shopping for clothes". Asked by a Dallas newspaper whom she most resembled, she cited Mary Martin, the wholesome 1950s Broadway musical star (and mother of Larry Hagman, JR in Dallas). Caroline Hunt was a prolific philanthropist, supporting cultural, educational and healthcare causes in Dallas and serving on the board of the John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington. She was also the first female deacon of her Presbyterian church in Dallas.

She published a novel, Primrose Past: The 1848 Journal of Young Lady Primrose, in 2000 which celebrated "purity of manners, fine sensibility, chastity, modesty [and] sweetness of nature" - and launched a range of Lady Primrose skin products. She also wrote cookbooks.

She married first, in 1943, Loyd Bowmer Sands, a US Navy pilot, with whom she had four sons and a daughter. They were divorced in 1973, and she married, secondly, Buddy Schoellkopf, from a prominent Dallas family who made their money in saddlery; that marriage ended in divorce in 1987. Caroline Hunt died on November 13.

© Telegraph

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