A Villa, a Castle, a Wilderness
The house sat amid the sprawling C. V. Whitney Farm, founded in 1896 by Sonny Whitney’s grandfather William C. Whitney, an industrialist who built a fortune on oil, tobacco and New York City streetcars. The couple also had a duplex apartment on Fifth Avenue, a villa in Palm Beach, Fla., a 100-room castle in Majorca, Spain, a ski lodge in Mount Placid, N.Y., and a summer retreat in the Adirondacks called Whitney Park, at more than 50,000 acres one of America’s largest tracts of private wilderness.
In Lexington, Mrs. Whitney took a passionate interest in the C. V. Whitney Racing Stable, whose great thoroughbreds in its trademark Eton blue and brown included Equipoise, Phalanx and Counterpoint. The stables later ceased operations, and Mr. Whitney died in 1992 at age 93, but Mrs. Whitney carried on the tradition, establishing her own stables. Her biggest success, under the guidance of Nick Zito, a racing Hall of Fame trainer, was Birdstone, the horse that spoiled Smarty Jones’s bid for the Triple Crown with an upset victory in the 2004 Belmont Stakes.
Mrs. Whitney called off her annual racing gala in 2012, saying she wanted to concentrate on more charitable events during the season, like holding dinners and other festivities for the track’s 2,500 “backstretchers,” mostly Hispanic men, who worked for low wages in more than 90 barns at Saratoga.
“We had to do more for the workers in the backstretch,” Mrs. Whitney told The New York Times in 2010. “They’ve needed a sense of belonging. And dignity.”
She was born Marie Louise Schroeder in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 24, 1925, to Harry and Marie Jean Schroeder. She attended Southwest High School and enrolled at the University of Iowa but had to return home at 19 when her father, a bank officer as well as an accountant, died. She found work at a Kansas City radio station as a wartime disc jockey, creating “Private Smiles,” a program for servicemen broadcast worldwide. Then she took off for New York with dreams of acting.
Blond, blue-eyed and petite, she found bit parts in early television shows while adding to her uncertain income by working and writing for a trade magazine and selling program ideas to a radio show. Meanwhile, she made the social rounds.