Women’s Wear Daily
04.20.2014
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Deeda Blair's 'Annus Horribilis'

WASHINGTON — “I don’t care to glitter,” says Catherine “Deeda” Blair, dressed in monochromatic gray Chanel, accented by a signature thin plume of gray cigarette smoke encircling her bouffant coiffure.Her...

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Deeda Blair in her Washington home

Deeda Blair in her Washington home.

Photo By Dean Kaufman

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WASHINGTON — “I don’t care to glitter,” says Catherine “Deeda” Blair, dressed in monochromatic gray Chanel, accented by a signature thin plume of gray cigarette smoke encircling her bouffant coiffure.

Her life would appear to say otherwise. Blair, for decades known as one of Washington’s leading socialites and icons of style, has always been a peacock among the wrens, a shade too sophisticated for the nation’s capital — couture shows in Paris, summers in the South of France and, most recently, mingling with biotech pioneers. She seems to have had an endlessly charmed life.

But no one would describe her that way after the last year. Last May, she and her husband, former Ambassador William McCormick Blair Jr., lost their only child, William McCormick Blair 3rd, 41, to suicide. “The moments of grief are rather unpredictable,” Blair says, her reed-thin figure looking frailer than usual. “Different things can suddenly generate overwhelming sadness.”

Her son, who had owned a fashionable dog-walking business in Georgetown, suffered from bipolar disorder. He had attempted suicide with an overdose of sedatives a few weeks earlier in California, and succeeded in killing himself en route home to D.C. His body was discovered on a terrace at Chicago’s Le Meridien Hotel, where he had jumped out of a window.

Then, in October, the planned sale of the Blairs’ $7.25 million, Thirties Georgian mansion, decorated by Billy Baldwin, fell through and their plans to relocate to New York City’s River House Condominium were put on hold. The Blairs had planned to relocate after 37 years as one of the capital’s most elegant globe-trotting couples because of the retirement of their longtime household help and a need to simplify their lives.

“To have all these horrible things come crashing down on her, it’s unspeakable,” says her good friend Catherine Graham, daughter-in-law of the late Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

Blair insists she is doing fine, and that she and her husband are still moving to New York as soon as they have settled the issue of their house. In the meantime, the D.C. doyenne is keeping more than busy, planning the details of her new home in New York and continuing her work of the past two decades as a biotech entrepreneur. Blair credits her unlikely career with helping her deal with her son’s death. “Going back to work was very important,” she says. “I went to a meeting at the National Institutes of Health and saw that I could stay all day and function. It’s a terrific distraction. Very few people know it, but I work seven days a week.”
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