Photo-Illustration: Lined; Photo: Julia Hetta, courtesy of Deeda Blair
New YorkThe “21 questions” of are back with an eye on New York creatives. Deeda Blair is a style icon, medical activist and philanthropist who was at the forefront of pioneering AIDS research. She founded the Deeda Blair Research Initiative for Disorders of the Brain in 200, and is the author of Deeda Blair: food, flowers and fantasy, which features insights into her life and travels with her late ambassador husband, William McCormick Blair, Jr., as well as recipes, tips for entertaining, and depictions of fantastic meals. Proceeds from the book will go to his foundation.
Last name: Deeda Blair
Neighborhood: Turtle Bay
Occupation: Founder of the Deeda Blair Research Initiative for Disorders of the Brain
What’s hanging above your couch?
A Kenzo Okada. He was a Japanese painter whom we knew. He started the paintings in Japan and then finished them here. And for me, the picture is serene but still interesting, and of course it has all the colors that I like.
What was the first job you had in New York?
When we arrived 17 years ago, I met a very interesting man, Joel Marcus, and a woman who worked with him. He started a real estate business for biotech companies, venture capitalists, and built a beautiful group of buildings here on First Avenue, right next to the hospital, called Alexandria Real Estate Equities. There was a state-of-the-art conference room, so we held summit conferences. They were very organized and we talked to the participating scientists for about an hour as a group. We did oncology and neuroscience, and then we did a couple on philanthropy. It was the first and only job in New York. I quit about 5 months before Bill died. I continue to see them or listen to them.
What color are you always drawn to?
Chalky colors. Chalky blue and chalky pale lilac, and black and white.
What art or artifact are you most surprised to own?
There is a drawing in Hubert Robert’s living room and it is a fantastic ruin. I have always loved them. I saw this at the antique fair and asked a dealer to go and persuade them to charge a little less. I never thought I would have a drawing by Hubert Robert – although there are drawings and things around, there are no major images; I don’t want anything unless it’s terribly wonderful.
Which New Yorker would you like to date?
Harold Koda, Samantha Boardman, Andrew Solomon, Anne Goldrach and Caroline Millbank…. the list goes on
What’s the last thing you did with your hands?
The book jacket (Deeda Blair: Food, Flowers and Fantasy). I’m not sure that Charles [Miers, the publisher of Rizzoli] like the idea, so I call it the wrapper.
Is there something you have multiple versions of?
Years and years ago, I found a shop in Paris that offered mandarin collar jackets, and they were gorgeous colors. I’m at home a lot, working, and this is my work suit, and it’s the only thing I have multiples of. I have at least 6.
Which museum in New York do you always go to? (and why)
The Metropolitan. You usually go to see an exhibition. But I think you can go see something because you feel like it. I mean, how many times have I gone to see the Wrightsman Rooms? Strolling through the Egyptian wing or strolling through the Greek and Roman rooms is the greatest pleasure.
What do you always have next to your computer?
I don’t use a real computer, I use an ipad or a phone, so there’s still nothing out there.
What is the best view in town?
I love the view from my window, which is the Roosevelt Island ruin. They’ve planted some wonderful trees there, and they’ve left the ruin alone so far, and I love it.
What building or object do you want to redraw each time you see it?
I don’t have an answer to that.
What is one thing you would change in your field?
I would like to see a lot more philanthropic funding for medical research on brain disorders. I read something the other day, and I don’t know if it’s an accurate statistic or not, that only 5% of philanthropic funds actually go to medical research. That seems out of place to me… so I would say, not enough. I mean people give megabucks to opera, symphony, all kinds of glorious cultural things. It took me a long time to understand this research program that I am doing to find out what is missing and what is needed. I think when you can identify young people who have gone to medical school, who have completed residency, and who are going to Stanford or Yale, they need seed funding.
If you could live anywhere in New York, where would it be?
Well, I think I’d live closer to the Met.
What would you do in reserve if it ceased to be produced?
I’m a hoarder of paper: it’s letters, it’s articles, if an article interested me five years ago; it is still there, and eventually findable.
What do you do to get out of a creative rut?
I’m never in a creative rut, I always think about the things I want to do.
Where was your first apartment in New York and how much was the rent?
Here on 52nd Street.
Where in the city do you go to be alone?
I was walking so much and I can’t anymore because of my back. The bedroom with the door closed.
Worst career advice you’ve ever received?
A very selfish person who I didn’t even ask for advice felt compelled to tell me that I shouldn’t work professionally for a venture capital group, and it was a venture capital group all about health care. We created the first gene therapy company, we did a number of firsts, and I paid no attention to it, and thank God I didn’t.
What have you given someone that you wish you could get back?There’s a fantastic Givenchy evening dress that went to a museum. It was special in the sense that Hubert let me change things – he wouldn’t let everyone else change things. I wore it for years and I remember one time when I was in Paris and I was invited to something divine that required a glamorous long dress and it was sent by DHL not a wrinkle . He never creased. It was heavenly.
What is your favorite New York restaurant and do you order regularly?
Well, obviously that changed with the departure of Charles Masson. [the owner of La Grenouille]so I’ve been to Majorelle a lot, and I’ve always had Dover sole.
The descriptive phrase you want on your obituary title?
I’m struggling to find anything because there’s no way to say “a huge amount of curiosity”. There is no way to say that! So I guess the word nice or helpful; I do not know.