SI Vault
Robert Coughlan
December 25, 1961
Granted that Mary Endicott Peabody Tree is an authentic Great Beauty, and that anyone who marries such a woman accepts the risk of becoming a consort. Granted that it was news when President Kennedy last February made the rich, fashionable, emancipated, delicately scented and tinted Mrs. Tree the U.S. delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Still, it doesn't seem right or sporting that in all the words written about her hardly anyone has had more than a cursory line or so for her husband. On the day of her appointment The New York Times , printing All the News That's Fit to Print, noted only that, "Mrs. Tree is married to Ronald Tree, a real estate broker." The implications of such brevity are not flattering. Surely, one would suppose, there must be more that can be said about Ronald Tree.
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December 25, 1961

Tory Prince Of A Balmy Isle

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Accordingly, having cleared up the matter of what Sandy Lane is, it is necessary to deal with the question: Who exactly is Ronald Tree?

The following data are presented in wallet-size form for clipping and easy reference:

Full name: Arthur Ronald Lambert Field Tree. Age 64. Height 5 feet 11� inches. Weight 175 pounds.

Appearance: Well-formed, regular features, faintly ruddy complexion, neatly brushed sandy-gray hair, tendency toward portliness but physically active, quick of movement. Habitually courteous, amiable (eyes distinctly twinkle). Is gregarious, considers himself an introvert but feels downcast, uneasy without people around him—actually is a natural host. Makes friends easily: friends quickly fall into calling him "Ron" or "Ronnie"; women have tendency to think of him as "dear Ronnie."

Financial condition: Assets, including those held in trust, estimated at more than $8 million.

Intellectual characteristics and interests: Well-stocked mind. Likes lively conversation, keeps it moving, has command of a surprising range of topics. Has usual upper-class British sense of public duty; participates in good causes—e.g., interested in Planned Parenthood, heads the trust to preserve Barbados' historic and natural assets. Has passion for architecture: for beautiful and noble structures, their grounds and gardens, interior design and decoration.

Other distinguishing marks: Old-school-tie accent and idiom. Guest must be prepared to field such kippered expressions as "rather a good wicket" (meaning a very good situation or arrangement, opposite of "rather a sticky wicket"). Fond of budgerigars and has enormous, fancy birdcages full of them. Widely acquainted, e.g., knows Anthony Eden well enough to call him Tony. Is related to an astonishing number of upper-register people. Typical far-fetched example: As father of Michael Tree (through an earlier marriage) he is father-in-law of former Lady Anne Cavendish, sister of the present Duke of Devonshire and niece of Lady Dorothy, the wife of Prime Minister Macmillan. However, dislikes snobbishness and pretentiousness; likes people to like him for himself. One friend's summary: "Ronnie is very old-shoe. But of course the shoe was hand-stitched and cost $50 a pair."

With this compendium of facts about his host, a guest can feel at ease at Sandy Lane. But to understand fully how and why Sandy Lane came to be, it is necessary to travel into Ronald Tree's past. Starting properly at the very beginning, among his antecedents, there are complexities: indeed, right here at the start one confronts a somewhat sticky wicket. Although today he is obviously English, Ronald Tree also is, in his origins, American. His parents were from Chicago. His paternal grandfather. Judge Lambert Tree, was a Democratic political figure there, a good judge of the law and also—happily for his descendants—an equally good judge of real estate values. Tree's maternal grandfather was the original Marshall Field, founder of the great department store and progenitor of a multifarious dynasty.

As to how Ronald Tree happened to become English, the story is both romantic and tragic. It began in 1898 with a situation that might have come from a novel by Henry James but that is told in the biography of a latter-day hero of the Royal Navy, David Beatty, Admiral of the Fleet.

In 1898 David Beatty was 27 years old, handsome, brilliant and already a hero, promoted to commander over 395 other lieutenants and awarded the D.S.O. for audacious leadership in the campaign against the Dervishes. He was a favorite of country house society; and one day, in the hunting field, he was introduced to a young and beautiful and (it is said) flirtatious American visitor, Ethel Tree—Mrs. Arthur Tree.

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