With the recent deaths of Roger Ebert, Annette Funicello, Lilly Pulitzer, and Margaret Thatcher getting so much attention, the passing of billionaire socialite Barbara Piasecka Johnson has been all but ignored. One of the world’s richest women with a net worth estimated at $3.6 billion, Basia (as she was known), died last week after a long illness. She was 76. Amazingly, she started out as a chambermaid working for J. Seward Johnson, a son of Johnson & Johnson co-founder Robert Wood Johnson, at his estate in Oldwicke, New Jersey. She left after nine months to study English in New York City, at which point J. Seward dispatched his chauffeur to bring her to his New Jersey office, where he professed his love. He left his wife of 32 years to be with her. She was 34 at the time, he was 76. When he died in 1983, his death sparked a legal battle between his six grown children and his widow over his will, which left her the bulk of his $500-million estate. From The LA Times: “In a 17-week trial in 1986 involving more than 200 lawyers, the children alleged that Barbara Johnson had coerced her dying husband into changing his will to her benefit. Barbara Johnson insisted that her husband’s children were blaming her for family rifts that predated her arrival. ‘I’m very sorry these children are ridiculing their father,’ she said during the trial. ‘They were out of the will long before I came to this country.’ The two sides reached a settlement that awarded $350 million to Barbara Johnson and the rest to the children and an oceanographic institute in Fort Pierce, Fla., that J. Seward Johnson helped create. In addition to the money, the agreement gave Barbara Johnson possession of the mansion she had built and shared with her husband — a 46,000-square-foot Georgian-style villa on 140 acres in a wooded section of Princeton they had called Jasna Polana, Polish for ‘bright meadow.’ She turned the property into a private golf club. Barbara Johnson resettled in Monaco and became an art collector and philanthropist.” Read more about her in The LA Times.
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