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The Philanthropic Charms Of Frances Hayward, Amigo’s Best Friend

Originally Posted: June 02, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

The indomitable Frances Hayward, best friend to man's best friend. Pictured here at the Hollywood Goes Humane event celebrating The Humane Society of the United States, Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Patrick McMullan.com

East Hampton - Of late, philanthropist Frances Hayward, has been on the front burner of Hamptons' media attention thanks to the renewed interest in the home she has rented for the past decade from Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, the now infamous Grey Gardens. With the eponymous HBO special, thankfully, fading into the On-Demand video archive, Hamptons.com sat down with this brilliant, dedicated and altruistic Hamptionian to see what she's been up to. In truth, Hayward's life's work easily overshadows the legacy of the house she calls home in East Hampton.

Pictured here on the porch of Grey Gardens with Bill Grimmer, Honor Humane Society Of the U.S., President Wayne Pacelle, Ashley Bush, Frances Hayward and Amigo, in East Hampton. Photo courtesy of Patrick McMullan.com

Before we could even pose our first question, Hayward launched the conversation in the direction of her number one philanthropic passion, animal welfare (as she prefers calling it instead of animal rights), referring to a magazine, Abaco Life, sitting on the coffee table that featured a painting of her late dog, Amigo on the cover. "The cover story is part of Amigo's mission. Not only is he the love of my life, other than my other half, he is the inspiration for the magazine's 'potcake' series. He is the inspiration for all my work now."

"Potcake" is the name for Bahamian mongrels, often strays that wander the island malnourished and victims of neglect and abandonment. During the interview the equally elegant and impassioned Hayward elaborated on how she found Amigo, as a four-month-old abandoned puppy, frightened and starving near the airport in the Grand Bahamas, where she divides her time between East Hampton, Manhattan, Palm Beach and, occasionally, London. It took her many days to gain Amigo's trust, but finally her "potcake" leapt into her arms and remained her devoted companion until his death a year and half ago from incurable canine cancer.

Beyond saving her own best friend, Hayward put her money where her heart was and personally financed the island-wide spay/neutering, free to all Bahamians, for all the cats and dogs on the island. "The Bahamas is a funny place, they are getting much better about it, but caring for animals was not the number one priority." She went on to elaborate that, "The Bahamian people, who I adore, have their own struggles." Her work on behalf of animal rights is legendary in the Caribbean and elsewhere. She is the Honorary Chairperson of the Bahamian Humane Society, after serving as its chairperson and number one advocate for over a decade. She also works tirelessly with and is or has been on the boards of the Humane Society of the U. S., the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, who worked with Hayward to rescue threatened animals in the Caribbean during Hurricane Frances. "ARF of the Hamptons is one of the most remarkable organizations in the world," according to Hayward.

Frances Hayward and Russell Simmons at the Rush Philanthropic's Annual ART FOR LIFE GALA, July 19, 2008. Photo courtesy of Patrick McMullan.com

Working with HSUS, she created www.BeKind.org in 2005 and came up with the idea of creating "BeKind Cause Collars," whereas animals, like their human counterparts that wear wristbands, could declare their own support for animal welfare. The collars raised over $200,000 in 2005 alone, a year that Hayward feels was pivotal in regards to animal welfare awareness. It was the year that the hurricanes hit New Orleans and the desperate plight of the animals left behind. "We had planned a fundraiser here at Grey Gardens, it had been in the works for months, then two days before the event, Katrina hit and it turned out to be a rally for the animals. Within three days the HSUS website kept going down because there were pleas for help to rescue these animals, there was mass hysteria over it. To me Katrina was in many ways a turning point, a horrible turning point, however a turning point. It mobilized people around the world to care about animals. People were horrified by the images of these poor animals floating helpless and alone." As a result, the modest BeKind fundraiser at Grey Gardens turned into a rally of 200 Hamptonians expressing their concern and compassion.

Using Amigo as the literal "poster boy" for her world-wide animal welfare campaign, her "potcake superstar" has appeared on posters and pamphlets, as the face on a Bahamian commemorative postage stamp and the star of a music video called "Amigo," written by Hayward herself, that, beyond raising awareness for animal rights, is simply brilliant and thoroughly entertaining. She has also written a children's book about Amigo. She has recently launched a new website called www.amigosfund.org to continue the work her beloved "potcake" inspired. "I want to become the Paul Newman of animal rights. I want to raise lots and lots of money and give it all away in support of animal welfare."

Trying to draw Hayward into a conversation about herself and away from her animal welfare activity was not easy, but she finally relented. She was born Frances Singer in New York City to a musical family, her lineage consisted of numerous composers and musicians, including her uncle the legendary composer Leo Robbin, who, among others works, wrote the score for "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Her father's work as a composer had the family moving back and forth between California and New York during her youth. "My mother refused to fly so we would take the 20th Century Limited to Chicago and change trains there. Little did I know at the time that Amy Vanderbilt would become one of my life-long friends, as I was riding her family's railroad."

Using Amigo as the literal "poster boy" for her world-wide animal welfare campaign, her "potcake superstar" has appeared on posters and pamphlets, and as the face on a Bahamian commemorative postage stamp. Photos by Douglas Harrington

An artist in her own right, Hayward attended Julliard and studied dance under Anthony Tudor and Martha Graham. Although she did return to Hollywood to pursue a career as a dancer, she only "did a bit of dancing" and ended up pursuing a career as a singer instead. "I ultimately did become a singer. I had a contract with Columbia Records. I sang in affiliation with Dave Brubeck. We had a huge 'turntable hit' called 'Something To Sing About' and the flip side, which I hated because my voice was so high ended up on one of his albums. I was in the company of Carmen McRae on that song under my professional name, Ranny Sinclair. I ended my career when I met Sir Jack."

Her "other half" and the person with which she has "lived as man and wife" for over 30 years is British businessman, Bahamian real estate developer, philanthropist and Wolverhampton Wanderers football club owner, Sir Jack Hayward. "The most fabulous person who has ever walked the face of the earth. He is in his 80s now, he is such a colonial. His favorite writer is Rudyard Kipling. There he was this traditional colonial, and me this American showbiz girl, but we clicked instantly. I took one look at Jack and said, 'He's the man of my dreams.'" Sir Jack is well-known for his own humanitarian efforts in the Bahamas, where there is a high school named after him and to which both he and Hayward lend great support. For over a decade they facilitated a student exchange program between the Bahamian high school and the Hamptons Boys and Girls Harbor program, before its recent demise. "When the kids from Boy's Harbor came down it was the happiest time of my year. It was absolutely one of the high points of my life."

Hayward's altruism is not limited to her efforts on behalf of animal rights but extends itself to humanitarian organizations like Boy's Harbor and other non-profits, along with philanthropy on behalf of the arts, in particular - garnering American support for the British Royal Academy of Arts. I asked if her association with the Academy came out of her relationship with Sir Jack, to my surprise, it did not. "It came out of my friendship with Tony Randall" she informed.

Another dear, but belated, friend was George Plimpton, with whom she shared charitable support for the Manhattan based "New York Philimusica." Hayward related a funny story of one the performance parties they threw at her former Hamptons rental, Lauren Bacall's house on Further Lane. "The second time we did one of these concert parties a monsoon happened. It was the most ludicrous thing. The first time in a 100 years, the lights went out, everything went out. We had the piano and musicians under a tent, but not the audience. So we got all these white umbrellas and everyone sat and listened to this beautiful chamber music in torrential rain. It became one of the most famous, talked about parties of the time."

In the famed Spanish Garden at Grey Gardens, East Hampton.

I asked Hayward what changes she has seen in the Hamptons over the years. "It has just become so popular. For good or for bad it has become so unbelievably famous. I think that sums it up and whatever goes with it." She admitted to loathing the McMansions.

There is an old expression, "Walk with Kings, but have the common touch." No expression could more describe this extraordinary woman. Among her many friends and admirers are royalty, celebrities, artists, impoverished Bahamians and American inner-city children who were able to experience the Caribbean sunshine thanks to her altruism. Although she has indeed walked with kings, she would undoubtedly, prefer one more walk on a Bahamian or Hamptons beach with her beloved Amigo. She will instead settle for and is determined to see that all animals walk in the sunlight of humane care and compassion.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

Updated: July 7, 2009, 9:51 pm
Appeared In: lifestyle >> icons & trendsetters