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Antoinette Pinchot Bradlee, former wife of prominent Washington Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee, dies at 87

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Antoinette Pinchot Bradlee’s understated beauty, quiet charm and her second marriage, to future Washington Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee, placed her on an elite social plateau in the nation’s capital in the late 1950s and 1960s.

She was a slender, comely blonde, and her unmistakable allure didn’t go unnoticed by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. She once told the president in the presence of the Bradlees, “Jack, you always say that Tony is your ideal woman.”

“Tony” Bradlee gradually withdrew from the demands of being a Washington hostess and wife of a hard-driving editor. By all accounts, she found journalism uninspiring. She was divorced from Ben Bradlee in the mid-1970s and channeled a great deal of her energy to a growing interest in the fine arts as well as the spiritual philosophy movement started by Russian-born mystic George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff.

Mrs. Bradlee, 87, died Nov. 9 at the Ingleside at Rock Creek retirement community in the District. She had dementia, said her daughter Rosamond Casey.

While Mrs. Bradlee’s life with her husband Ben was in many ways charmed — private dinners at the White House and weekend getaways at Hyannis Port, Mass., with the Kennedys — it also had enduring sorrows. Their circle included Mrs. Bradlee’s older sister, Mary Meyer, a painter whose murder in 1964 on the C&O Canal towpath remains unsolved.

The case took an eerie twist, Ben Bradlee later wrote in his memoir, “A Good Life.” The Bradlees saw CIA counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton picking the padlock on Meyer’s Georgetown art studio in an attempt to retrieve her diary. (Meyer and Angleton’s wife were friends.)

Mrs. Bradlee subsequently found the diary, which appeared to disclose her sister’s affair with late President John F. Kennedy. Mrs. Bradlee and her husband, who was serving as head of Newsweek’s Washington bureau, turned the diary over to Angleton with the promise that the CIA would destroy it.

More than a decade later, Mrs. Bradlee was upset when she heard Angleton had not kept his word. Through an intermediary, she got the diary back and set it on fire.

Antoinette Eno Pinchot was born in New York on Jan. 15, 1924, to a politically active family.

Her father, Amos, was a lawyer, founding member of the Progressive Party and an antiwar advocate during World War I. Her mother, the former Ruth Pickering, was a writer and critic for left-wing publications such as the Masses, the Nation and the New Republic. Her uncle Gifford Pinchot, a friend of president Theodore Roosevelt, was a former Pennsylvania governor and became the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Tony Pinchot was a graduate of the Brearley School in New York and in 1945 graduated from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. She worked on the staff of Vogue magazine before her marriage, in 1947, to lawyer Steuart L. Pittman, who later served as Kennedy’s assistant defense secretary.

While on a European trip with her sister in 1954, she met Bradlee, who was then chief European correspondent for Newsweek. They divorced their spouses, wed in 1956 and settled in Washington, where then-Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass) was a Georgetown neighbor.

Mrs. Bradlee told Kennedy biographer Sally Bedell Smith that on a particularly festive 46th birthday party for then-President Kennedy in 1963, he made a pass, which she rebuffed.

Ben Bradlee joined The Post in 1965 and three years later became its executive editor, aggressively transforming the paper into one of the country’s most respected dailies. He wrote in his memoir that their marriage began to disintegrate because of his near-total devotion to The Post, combined with his wife’s desire to seek spiritual fulfillment through her artwork and Gurdjieff.

Survivors include four children from her first marriage, Andrew Pittman of Washington, Nancy Pinchot of New Haven, Conn., Rosamond Casey of Charlottesville and Tamara Pittman of Brooklyn, N.Y.; two children from her second marriage, Dominic “Dino” Bradlee of Hydra, Greece, and Marina Murdock of Purcellville; a stepson, Benjamin Bradlee Jr. of Cambridge, Mass.; and 13 grandchildren.

Having studied art at Washington’s Corcoran School, Mrs. Bradlee was a ceramicist, jeweler and, in her final years, a painter. She earned a strong review for her concrete sculptures at her first and only solo exhibition, in 1972 at Washington’s Jefferson Place Gallery.

“What makes these works remarkable is not the hardness of their shells, but the delicacies of their interiors,” wrote Post art critic Paul Richard. “These pieces do not yell, they do not gobble space. Their shapes are generally simple — spheres, columnar pods, and discs — but each shape has an opening, a window, and there is nothing simple about what goes on inside.”

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