What a Trip

The continuing story of Nancy Cooke de Herrera.

Nancy Cooke de Herrera in Kashmir India in 1988

Nancy Cooke de Herrera in Kashmir, India, in 1988.

Photo By Courtesy of De Herrera

LOS ANGELES — It’s a very rare Beverly Hills doyenne who can say that The Beatles wrote a song about her, but Nancy Cooke de Herrera is just that kind of grande dame. True, she has a faithful housekeeper of 39 years, named Mercedes, and she lunches with Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale. But, as a friend of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, de Herrera instructs those seeking strength through spirituality in Transcendental Meditation, including such notables as Greta Garbo and Madonna.

De Herrera’s book, "All You Need Is Love," due out April 11, chronicles the spread of spirituality from India to the Western world, for which de Herrera herself was partly responsible 40 years ago.

"Mantra and guru — those words were not in our dictionary back then," she explains over tea at her Beverly Hills home of 41 years.

Born across the bay from San Francisco, in Piedmont, Calif., de Herrera left Stanford after three years to marry naval officer Dick Cooke, the scion of one of Hawaii’s oldest missionary families. The couple lived in the islands for nine years during World War II, where de Herrera played hostess to Admirals Nimitz, Halsey and Towers. When she and Cooke divorced, in her late 20s, de Herrera returned to California. Then, during a trip to New York she met "the love of my life," Argentine racecar driver and golf champion Luis de Herrera. Sadly, after a whirlwind romance and barely two years of bliss in Buenos Aries, de Herrera lost her second husband to leukemia.

To console her, B.K. Nehru, former Indian Ambassador to the U.S., gave de Herrera a copy of Paramhansa Yoganda’s "The Autobiography of a Yogi," and in 1962, she arrived in India wearing four-inch heels, and journeyed for weeks to meet the Maharishi. She quickly became a devotee.

Of course, when de Herrera returned to California dressed in Punjabi tunics and leggings — she never wears saris, claiming Westerners don’t look good in them — friends said she had lost her mind.

"So many people thought, ‘Oh come on, you’re just being taken,’" she says.
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