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Name: PRUDHOMME, Rhoda, Mrs
Birth Date: 17 June 1888 Manhattan
Death Date: 14 May 1978 Santa Barbara, California
First Date: 1932
Last Date: 1939
Profession: Friend of Beryl Markham - a wealthy American socialite.
Area: Nanyuki - 'Mawingo'
Married: 1. In Manhattan 24 Dec 1907 Frederick Lewinsohn (1881-1959)Marie Gabriel Prudhomme (div.) 2. In London 19 May 1937 Gabriel Marie Charles Jacques Prudhomme (1899-1945)
Children: Audrey (22 Dec 1908 New York); Evelyn Rhoda (16 Dec 1911 New York-2006)
Book Reference: Markham, Rundgren, Web
Markham - By 1944 she was living in California. She had divorced Gabriel at the beginning of the war - 'glad to be rid of that real little squirt, gadabout and show-off'. She had left Mawingo unoccupied and, when Gabriel was killed in action, his French family tried to lay claim to it and half of Rhoda's fortune, which would involve legal wrangling. ....... She eventually won the case against his family ...... was good friends with Raoul Schumacher and Beryl Markham in California - an attractive dark-haired socialite.
Rundgren - When Mrs Wheeler and her daughter left Kenya Mrs Gabriel Prud'homme (an American heiress) arrived and fell in love with the place [Mawingo] at first sight, bought it that day and offered Eric Rundgren the job of running it. Mrs P. had an income of £20,000 a year. She wanted to start a game sanctuary. To acquire animals two young farmers Maurice Randall and Noel King were engaged to assist Rundgren. ....... At the beginning of World War Two the Prudhommes departed for America.
Web - Rhoda Lewinsohn was married to a millionaire financier from New York. She had everything: a philanthropic husband of good social standing and 2 grown-up daughters, but also a rare ability to enjoy life to the fullest. Evidence of this 'joie de vivre' is threaded throughout her story from the moment she left her family in the United States to holiday in Kenya. Although in her 50s, Rhoda was a stunningly attractive woman, as sleek as a thoroughbred racehorse, and with the same dynamic energy. Perhaps it was these qualities that attracted Gabriel Prudhomme to her. He was much younger than she, an adventurous French bachelor who had his own airplane, and was a keen hunter of big game. When he took Rhoda and her friends on safari, not only did Rhoda shoot her first elephant, she also fell madly in love.
Gabriel pressed his suit and very soon Rhoda, the Manhattan Matron, had discarded her husband and her US citizenship. The couple was married in Paris before returning to Kenya to live at Njoro among the Happy Valley set. Years later, as a widow in her eighties with swept back blonde hair and an unlined face, Rhoda would show photos to her friends who came to tea at her home in Santa Barbara, California. The pictures were foxed with age, but you could still see the figures in comical long dresses and baggy shorts, arms linked and laughing on the lawn, or proudly standing with gun in hand next to a trophy lion. She referred to them all by their first names, and spoke of them in the present tense as though they were still around.
Rhoda and Gabriel were anxious to build their own home and had chosen as a setting an enchanting expanse of forest and field at the foot of Mt Kenya near Nanyuki. The property, however, was not for sale. It belonged to a Mrs. Wheeler from San Francisco who had also fallen in love with the same environment and wanted to build a house of her own, but a strange quirk of fate was to change everything. Mrs. Wheeler's fiancé died suddenly while abroad. Grief stricken, she told Gabriel she would sell the land if he would fly to France, have the body cremated, and bring the ashes back to Kenya. Gabriel agreed willingly, and later flew Mrs. Wheeler high over Mt Kenya and scattered her lover's remains over the mountain.
The Prudhommes started to build immediately and completed the house in a year. Photographs show Indian labourers busy working on bamboo scaffolding. Unlike other Kenyan houses of that time, where guest cottages were added on haphazardly to accommodate a growing number of friends, relations and children, Rhoda insisted on one large building. She said that she wanted everyone under one roof because it got so muddy during the rains. It was Rhoda who gave the house the name 'Mawingo', the Kiswahili name for 'the clouds' that so often skirt the slopes of Mt Kenya. There have, of course, been changes since then, but Club connoisseurs can still recognize the original building, which extended to where the Trophy Lounge is today. The relaxed and sophisticated atmosphere is probably much the same as it ever was and even in the early days there was an abundance of tropical shrubs, a small lake and small orphanage of Antelope and Cheetah.
The Prudhomme Mt Kenya idyll lasted just a year before the onset of World War II shattered it in 1939, when Rhoda returned to New York. Tragedy ensued. Having fought for the Free French in Algeria, Gabriel flew to the United States to rejoin Rhoda but, without the sparkling air of the Kenyan highlands to nourish it, their relationship soured. Rhoda divorced Gabriel and thus lost both husband and home, for she had given 'Mawingo' to him as a present. When he died, shortly after the war, his intention had been to return it to her, since in his own words, ''...she was the only woman I ever loved''. He had, however, forgotten to sign his will so the house went to his family, who were, alas, never able to enjoy Mawingo. During the war, the family home in France was occupied and Gabriel's family was forced to live in their unheated attic. They both died of pneumonia.
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