Rachele Mussolini, the widow of Benito Mussolini, the facist dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943, died Tuesday at her home in Predappio, Italy, following a heart attack. She was 87.
During her husband's spectacular and bombastic political career, Donna Rachele, as she was known in Italy, remained in the background, caring for their five children and running here household. Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, was executed in 1945 by Italian partisans.
Since then, Donna Rachele has spent most of her time on her farm in Predappio, a small town near the Adriatic Sea. It is in the district where she and Mussolini were born and where they first met. Despite the ruin spawned by Mussolini's public career and the infidelities that marked his private life, Donna Rachele honored his memory to the end of her days.
She insisted that his body be returned to her by the Italian government, and in 1956 it was. She saw that it received a Christian burial in the cemetery in Predappio. She insisted that part of his brain that had been taken to the United States be returned, and it was. She fought for the return of his personal belongings, all of which had been confiscated after the war, and many of them were given back.
She insisted on her rights to a pension as the widow of a former soldier and government official. In 1968, the government capitulated and granted her a sum equal to $200 a month. A large portrait of "II Duce" was displayed in her house. A smaller picture, taken when he was a young socialist newspaper editor, graced a table in her room.
Donna Rachele ran a restaurant at "La Caminate," the hilltop near her home where Mussolini once had a villa. It was popular with tourists, curosity seekers and neo-fascists.
It is said that the only one of her husband's belongings that she refused to accept was a large walnut bed. When the government offered it together with other furniture, she turned it down, reportedly saying, "Claretta used it."
Donna Rachele often visited her husband's grave. Beside him lie the bodies of two of their children, Bruno, an aviator who was killed in a crash during World War II, and Anna Maria, who died in 1968. Donna Rachele had a granite coffin prepared for herself several years ago. That, too, lies nex to the body of Mussolini.
"My dead want me," she used to say.
Although she often was in the news -- in 1967, her efforts to have the dusty road to her farm house paved were widely reported -- she professed little interest in politics.
"I was sorry that [Mussolini] went into politics," she once said. "He had a newspaper, he was the editor. He should have stayed there. You can't be happy in politics, never, because one day things go well, another day they go badly."
Of here relationship with her husband, she once said, "He had a lot of affection for me. Probably I am the only woman he ever thought anything of. He really did like his family -- to an extent that no other man in the world could. . . .
"He only saw that Petacci once at Lake Como while we were staying there toward the last."
Donna Rachele is survived by three children, Vittorio, who has a successful business career in Argentina before returning to Italy in 1968; Edda, the widow of Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian foreign minister under Mussolini who was executed during the war -- she still appears in society in Rome and Capri -- and Romano, one of Italy's leading jazz pianists and the former husband of Sophia Loren's younger sister.