The hotel recently had the pleasure of welcoming Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave, the great-granddaughter of one of the nation’s most prominent financiers and our historic mansion’s namesake, Henry Villard. Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave shares her thoughts on returning to the mansion, her evening in the Gallery at Villard Michel Richard and more.
NYP: As an inspirational speaker and author, you are no stranger to travelling worldwide with stops at major cities, what do you most enjoy about visiting New York?
Alexandra: The fact that it is the most exhilarating transnational city in the world.
NYP: On your recent visit to The New York Palace, you dined in the Gallery, which resides in the landmarked interiors of the Villard Mansion. How does it feel to return to your great grandfathers home, in what was his private study, and have dinner?
Alexandra: I was delighted to be in my great grandfather’s home, and I greatly enjoyed the superb meal prepared by Chef Michel Richard in the Gallery.
I was first brought to the house when I was seven years old and told, “Now this is what you can achieve with courage, perseverance, and hard work.” To me, the house has always stood as a symbol of Henry Villard’s greatest dreams. I am very proud of his legacy and most grateful that his house was designated as a national landmark, allowing his vision of nineteenth century beauty and elegance to be kept alive.
NYP: Over a decade ago, you co-authored a book, bringing the story of your great grandfather to life, entitled Villard: The Life and Times of an American Titan. How important was it for you to tell the story of not only Villard’s courageous enterprise but also of a revolutionary time period in American History?
Alexandra: The book was the fulfillment of a promise I made to my father, Henry Serrano Villard. Shortly before my father died, he took my hand in his and said, “You are the only member of the family I can count on to write your great grandfather’s story. Promise me you will.”
Henry Villard arrived in America from Germany in 1853 at the age of eighteen, without speaking a word of English and with just twenty borrowed dollars in his pocket. From there he went on to master the English language, cover the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, and was the only journalist to accompany Lincoln on the inaugural train from Springfield to Washington. He reported first-hand on many of the major battles of the Civil War for the New York Herald and later the Tribune without yet being an American citizen. I believe his courage on the battlefield prepared him to take a chance on funding Thomas Edison’s early experiments in electricity and opening America’s new horizons by building the Northern Pacific Railroad. The contributions he made to America still endure today.
Henry Villard’s story is one of triumph and ruin, of friendship and heartbreak, and an extraordinary ability to overcome adversity and rise again. I am immensely gratified to have been given the opportunity to tell it.
NYP: Your organization Light of Healing Hope, was founded on the ever important principles of hope, compassion and healing. Tell us a bit more about the inspiration behind this cause?
Alexandra: On the night of September 11, 2001, I began to pray for a way to bring some small measure of comfort and healing to the families who had suffered the most devastating loss of their loved ones. Then, on the first anniversary of that tragic day, as I watched the children call out their parents’ names at Ground Zero with great courage, a space opened in my heart that made way for earnest verses about love, hope, and courage to flow out of me.
I had never written poetry before, but I felt I was being shown a way to bring comfort to those families in need, and the result, three years later, was the publication by Glitterati Incorporated of Healing Light: Thirty Messages of Love, Hope and Courage. That book was sent as a gift, through the kindness of John C. Whitehead, then chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, to all the Survivors’ Families.
Healing Light was the first of my three books of poetry designed to bring hope and comfort to those who are suffering and have served as the cornerstone of my foundation, Light of Healing Hope. We have now given thousands of our gifts to Johns Hopkins, NIH, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and a number of other organizations for wounded veterans, including Fisher House and the Wounded Warrior Project.
Our heartfelt thanks go out to Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave for her time and personal reflections on the mansion’s history. The storied past and expertly preserved residence is what truly defines the uniqueness of the hotel’s offerings today.
For more information on The Villard Mansion and The New York Palace, please visit www.newyorkpalace.com.