Elizabeth Fondaras, for many years a summer resident of East Hampton and a longtime member of the Maidstone Club, died at home in New York City on Aug. 29. She was 96.
Mrs. Fondaras dedicated decades of her life to supporting and expanding the relations between France and the United States through her personal initiatives and by lending her support to organizations with the same goal.
In 1972, the U.S. State Department recognized her with a tribute of appreciation. She was appointed chevalier of the French Legion d’Honneur in 1989 and an officier in 2002. In 2009, French President Nicolas Sarkozy named her commandeur of the Legion d’Honneur.
She was remembered by friends as a popular, elegant, and gracious hostess who loved to entertain, and she gave many lunches and dinners at her house overlooking the ocean on Further Lane. Her Bastille Day parties each July 14 were considered a highlight of the season among her circle.
She was born Elizabeth Temple Robertson in Boston on March 18, 1916, a descendant of an old Virginia family. Her parents were Lewis Robertson and the former Edith Bellamy.
After the death of her first husband, Charles E. Miller, she moved to Paris and made that city her home for 10 years. In France, she married Theodore Weicker Jr., of the Squibb pharmaceutical family, and when they returned to the United States he introduced her to the East End of Long Island, where he had a house. She fell in love with the area and maintained a house in East Hampton for the remainder of her life.
Among Mrs. Fondaras’s favorite things to do while spending time in East Hampton were going to farm stands and to Gosman’s Dock in Montauk and Bobby Van’s in Bridgehampton for lunch.
The strong friendships she made in France and her love for that country were to shape one of her life’s principal objectives, her friends said — to bring about better understanding between that country and the United States.
In the early 1950s, Mrs. Fondaras established the Elizabeth R. Miller Traveling Scholarship, a program that brought 10 young French surgeons to work in American hospitals. In 1956, she founded the Elizabeth R. Miller Scholarship for St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., a program that continues as the Elizabeth R. Weicker Scholarship. Over the 50-year course of this program, she supported the education of close to 100 French boys and girls, many of whom have gone on to become prominent professionals.
In 1971, she married Anastassios Fondaras (he died in June 1999), a retired commander in the Royal Greek Navy and former managing director for Stavros Niarchos’s shipping interests. The couple settled in New York, keeping their pied-a-terre on the Ile St. Louis in Paris, where she enjoyed entertaining her international friends. The penthouse had a 360-degree view of Paris, from Notre Dame and the Seine down below to Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, the Sorbonne, and many other landmarks of the city.
She also enjoyed horse racing and had maintained a stable of horses in Chantilly, France, earlier in her life.
At the time of her death, her ties to France were as strong as ever, as she continued her work with the Pasteur Foundation, for which she had been the founding chairwoman of its American advisory board since 1989. Her work also included service as vice chairwoman of the French American Foundation.
Mrs. Fondaras received the Medal of the Center for French Civilization and Culture and served as chairwoman of the advisory board of La Maison Francaise at New York University.
She served on many other boards, including those of St. Paul’s School, the American Friends of Blerancourt, the Institute of International Education, the Children’s Storefront School in Harlem, and the Foreign Policy Association.
Friends recalled Mrs. Fondaras’s “ever-present warmth, charm, strength of purpose, and generosity of spirit,” and said that she will be missed by a large circle of friends at home and abroad.
She is survived by her stepchildren and stepgrandchildren, including Theodore Weicker of Palo Alto, Calif., Tara Lamont of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Antonia Fondaras of Washington, D.C.
A funeral service for her was held on Sept. 1 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Hampton. A memorial is to be held in New York City at a date to be announced.
Contributions have been suggested to the French American Foundation, 28 West 44th Street, Suite 1420, New York City 10036, or to the Pasteur Foundation, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suite 1654, New York City 10170.