SHE fell in love with the English countryside and helped to save an estate for future generations.
Warm tributes have been paid to Mary Bessborough, who was instrumental in saving the Stansted Estate, a beautiful stretch of forest and grazing land between Havant and Chichester.
Lady Bessborough, who died earlier this month aged of 98, will be laid to rest tomorrow at the chapel at Stansted and buried alongside her late husband, Frederick, the 10th Earl of Bessborough.
Her body has been flown over from Philadelphia, USA, where she has been living for the past few years.
Lady Bessborough’s last visit to Stansted was in 2009, but she kept in touch via the internet on her laptop.
James Cooper, director of the Stansted Park Foundation, said: ‘Lady Bessborough was a warm-hearted and generous person. She loved Stansted.
‘I think it represented to her all that was best about England. She loved its landscape, its atmosphere, and its history.’
Mr Cooper described her as a woman with a ‘great sense of humour’.
Lady Bessborough was born in 1915 in Pennsylvania. She was the great granddaughter of Anthony Drexel, a financier, banker and philanthropist who founded what is now Drexel University in the US.
She was educated in France, and during the war worked in the Red Cross as a nurse’s aid.
In 1948 she married Frederick Edward Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, a diplomat at the British Embassy in Paris.
When his father died in 1956, Ponsonby succeeded him as the 10th Earl of Bessborough and his wife became the Countess of Bessborough.
Mr Cooper said: ‘In addition to her other causes, Mary was able to support the estate through a very difficult times after the war when many such estates were being broken up and sold.
‘It was very much through her influence and financial support that the Stansted estate was kept together, which enabled her husband to put it into a charitable trust for the nation in 1983.
‘In her final years she returned to live in Philadelphia but at heart she was very much an Anglophile, which is why she is being brought back from the US and will be laid to rest at Stansted alongside her late husband. She will be much missed.’
The 10th Earl of Bessborough died in 1993.
Lady Bessborough was a keen artist and maintained an interest in politics, world affairs, French culture, and Anglo-American history.
She was a founder of the Benjamin Franklin Foundation and was instrumental in the purchase of Franklin’s house at 36 Craven St in London, which opened to the public after restoration in 2006.
She leaves one daughter, Lady Charlotte Petsopoulos, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.