Mimi Cecil, Beloved Community Leader and Biltmore Owner, Dies at 85
Mary "Mimi" Ryan Cecil died three weeks after her husband of 60 years, William A.V. Cecil.
Three weeks after the death of her husband of 60 years, William A.V. Cecil, Mary "Mimi" Ryan Cecil, passed away at home on Sunday. She was 85 years old.
Together the couple owned owned The Biltmore Co., which owns and operates Asheville’s Biltmore Estate—the largest private home in the country. Mimi was a beloved member of the community, and a tireless supporter of area non-profits.
The daughter of textile manufacturer John J. Ryan, Jr., and granddaughter of the prominent New York banker, lawyer, and builder James T. Lee, Mimi graduated with a B.A. in English from Vassar College in 1953. She was then in the first class of female graduates from the University of Michigan Law School. After her marriage to William A.V. Cecil, the couple moved to Asheville, North Carolina, to raise their family and to oversee the management and preservation of Biltmore, the home of Cecil’s grandfather, George W. Vanderbilt III. The estate reportedly didn’t turn its first profit ($17) until 1969, nearly a decade after the couple returned to Asheville and committed themselves to its success.
“My mother had a significant influence on every member of our family and on many local, regional and national organizations,” said Bill Cecil Jr., the couple's son and CEO of The Biltmore Co., in a press release issued Saturday. “She spent much of her life working to make a difference in the areas of education, social inequities, the environment, and the arts. Her leadership and determination to initiate change through hard work set the example for all of us. She will be deeply missed.”
Mimi was a trustee and served 14 years as Chair of the North Carolina Environmental Defense Fund. She was a founding board member of The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina and Friends of the Smokies, in addition to serving on the Board for the North Carolina Zoological Society. She served as Chair of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina board for a decade, and was Chair of the Warren Wilson College Board of Trustees from 1998–2005.
WATCH: Biltmore Estate Owner, William A. V. Cecil, Dead at 89
“My mother’s contributions to our family and this community are beyond measure,” Dini Pickering, Mimi Cecil’s daughter and President of the Family Office & Chair of the Board of Directors for The Biltmore Company, added. “She kept our family connected, both to each other and to causes bigger than ourselves. Her energy for giving was endless and she has inspired all of us to follow in her footsteps. We will proudly carry on that legacy.”