by For those that may not recognize the name, Miss Duke was the heir to the Reynolds tobacco company with generous endowments to Duke University and other institutions.
I wasn’t surprised when I read that the Doris Duke Foundation committed $50,000,000 to emerging and established artists over the next ten years. After all I was her last music teacher before she was murdered. Let me explain.
Decades before I began playing my financial calculator, I played music as co-owner of a music consulting technology company.
I met Miss Duke (as she was called, although she gave me permission to call her Doris) in the late 1980s. At the time, Doris was interested in obtaining technology to allow her to transcribe the music of the gospel singer Contance Pitts-Speed.
I was contacted by Miss Duke’s staff because my firm, Musication, was the leader in the technology that enabled musicians to transcribe music during real time performance.
My relationship with Doris evolved and eventually I was giving her private performances on my guitar and held discussions on complex music concepts. Doris had a wonderful ear for music. It was not unusual for her to call my home and have detailed discussions on the music I transcribed for her. All sessions took place at Duke farms, Somerset NJ.
During my multi-year relationship with Doris I met numerous key individuals. These included her adopted daughter Chandi Heffner, Miss Duke’s business manager Irwin Bloom, and her butler/executive assistant, Bernard Lafferty.
My relationship with Miss Duke continued until late 1992, when all communication was abruptly terminated by someone within the Duke organization. Shortly thereafter, I learned Doris Duke died.
It was later reported her semi- literate alcoholic butler Bernard was ultimately the culprit. Shortly before her death she signed over her estate to Bernard leaving him in complete control of her billion dollar legacy.
Miss Duke died alone and betrayed.
Although it has been a long time since I had a relationship with Doris, this news brings back disturbing memories of her life.
As published in the New York Times, “Doris Duke, 80, the legendary tobacco heiress, looked more like a blond skeleton than the athletic debutante who had made her society debut in the 1930’s at Buckingham Palace or the stately and private woman who only a few years before was socializing with Jacqueline Onassis and Imelda Marcos.
Her circle had shrunk to a few servants and a group of doctors and lawyers she had known only a short time. As she signed her last will that day with a shaky hand and turned her fortune over to her butler, not a single close friend or family member was present.
Her doctors and lawyers say they helped Miss Duke realize her final wish in a lifetime of unorthodox choices. The will gave control of her $1.2 billion fortune to her butler, Bernard Lafferty, a barely literate man with a drinking problem who had become Miss Duke’s sole confidant.
Doris died alone. Of course, she was surrounded by servants, lawyers, and other domestic helpers. It’s rather unfortunate, since life is nothing more than a collection of fulfilling and trusting relationships. Maybe the problem wasn’t that there weren’t people around her, but rather that she didn’t know how to cultivate trusting relationships.
Even though Miss Duke died alone and betrayed, she still manages to have a positive influence in the world. It brings back memories of the personal and musical connection that she and I shared.
Doris’ father, James Buchanan Duke, told her to “trust no one. Perhaps this was the wrong lesson. Rather than trusting no one, better to learn how to trust.