Bidding Adieu to the Elegant Anne Slater


Anne Slater died peacefully in her sleep on Christmas Eve at her house in Wellington, Florida, which she shared with her husband, John Cahill.

Longtime companions for more than 40 years, I only learned a few weeks ago when I talked to John that they finally tied the knot 14 years ago. They never made anything of it—sending announcements, celebrating socially—because after all that time together, it was merely practical, and life went on.

Anne was born in 1924 and grew up in Canton, Ohio, which at that time was a prosperous part of the Pittsburgh/Cleveland hub of American industry. Anne’s father was a steel executive. When she was 17 she came to New York to attend Finch Junior College.

She first had an early marriage a young New York socialite, William Grace Holloway, Jr., a member of the W.R. Grace shipping family. I know this only because I’ve read it. In 1959, when she was 35, she married Denniston Slater, a young socialite/sportsman and private investor who was often referred to in the press as the Fanny Farmer (candy) heir because he and a group of investors bought it.

After Denny died suddenly in 1971 at age 44, Anne remained unmarried, though her companionship with John Cahill began in the ensuing years.  It was a time in New York where the post-War prosperity and the emergence of women and women’s rights was flourishing through the ranks. New York attracted women like Anne Slater, Aileen Mehle, as well as Liz Smith—all women from the Midwest and the West. They came to New York in their youth and established themselves at its core. They created their lives, and all three notably lived them out impeccably.

I met Anne only back in the early ’90s, when I first returned to New York. I saw her frequently at Mortimer’s, the lunching spot for fashion and social glamour girls. She was a pleasure just to look at, a real beauty in her presence, a kind of quiet elegance, a movie-star theatricality, and the cobalt blue glasses that were more than a “trademark” but an invitation to the literary.

In all those years she always looked the same, without age: the serenity, the elegance, the stylish, easy chic—along with the enormous pear-shaped diamond on the third finger of her left hand. It was not the center but the natural antecedent that only looked right on her hand.

I know it seems as if I’m idealizing. And I am. She provoked that with her remarkable energy. If you saw her walking on the street—and she could often be seen walking to or from, in the neighborhoods of the Upper East Side—perfectly, matter-of-factly turned out, you saw all of this as clearly as if you were sitting at table with her. It’s filmic in memory. Although at table you also got the voice. Melodic contralto, and warm.

When I think of that voice that always had an available smile in it, I recall the story she told me about lunching at Mortimer’s one day when Jerry Zipkin, the man-about-town who regarded himself as the ultimate critic, passed by her table and muttered in his sharp, stentorian voice, “I don’t like that lipstick you’re wearing today!” To which Anne, smiling in her dulcet tones, quietly replied, “Well, then, you shouldn’t wear it, darling.”