These days, it is Deeda Blair who is the couple’s breadwinner — and she’s not afraid to let anyone know it. At a recent Kennedy Center party, a friend congratulated Ambassador Blair, now 88, on looking so well. “Of course he looks wonderful,” Deeda Blair quipped. “He’s not the one who is working.”
What few people know is that she had little choice. William Blair, a well-connected Kennedy insider, suffered a number of financial setbacks after his father’s death in 1982. Blair family members say the bulk of the senior Blair’s estate went to the Art Institute of Chicago. While his two brothers maintained their partnership positions in the family’s investment bank of William Blair & Co., the former ambassador, as a public servant, found himself at a financial crossroads. It was then that Deeda Blair gave up her unofficial position as Washington doyenne, sold a pair of 22.4-carat Van Cleef & Arpels diamond earrings given to her by her husband several years after the wedding and embarked on her new career.
She credits her resolve to her mentor, the late Mary Lasker, ardent Democrat, philanthropist and advocate for the National Institute of Health, the woman who trained Blair to be a tough negotiator. Lasker also gave Blair the wherewithal and the social cachet to establish herself on the international scene as a player independent of the confines of Washington society.