IN MEMORIAM: Bokara Legendre

by Jane Ahrens

Bokara Legendre died peacefully on December 3 at home in Mill Valley, California after a brief illness.

She will always be remembered for her sense of humor, her curiosity and love of adventure, her courage, and most of all for her generosity to both her friends as well as to the causes she believed in including the Paris Review, the New York Theatre Workshop, Lincoln Center Theater, Tibet House, Esalen, Panthera, NRDC, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, and other organizations devoted to protecting the rights of animals.

Bo’s maternal grandfather, John Sanford, owned the Sanford and Sons Carpet Mills in Amsterdam, NY. His racing stable, Sanford Stud Farm, produced many notable winners, including George Smith, winner of the 1916 Kentucky Derby, and Sergeant Murphy, the first American-owned winner of the English Grand National.

Bo’s mother, Gertrude Sanford Legendre, grew up in the family house at 9 East 72nd Street in New York and in Aiken, South Carolina. She was only 16 when she embarked on the first of many trips to exotic places – Africa, Persia, Indo-China – collecting for natural history museums.

Sidney Legendre, Bo’s father, was one of six children from New Orleans who were renowned for their looks and their charm. Staying with friends in South Carolina soon after they were married in 1929, the Legendres rode with their host over to Medway Plantation, the property next door, for a picnic. Although the house was derelict with no running water, no electricity and no heat, they bought it at once and set about restoring it.

As a child, Bo spent her weekends at Medway while going to the Charleston Day School where she told her schoolmates that she was actually a Russian princess who had been adopted by the Legendres. They all believed her! After graduating from the Foxcroft School, Bo began her own life of travel and adventure which would rival if not outdo her mother’s. There are few places in the world she failed to visit nor people she did not meet at one time or another.

When she was not traveling, she divided her time between New York City, California, and Medway Plantation where she continued her mother’s tradition of generous hospitality.

Many people have dreams, but few have Bo’s gusto and courage to pursue them. Bo’s determination and curiosity allowed her to succeed at a variety of careers: She performed in summer stock on the Cape and later appeared as Sarah Bernhardt at Cafe La MaMa in New York. Bo had her own television program in Palm Beach. She was an accomplished artist whose paintings of wolves and fanciful dream images were exhibited in galleries in New York and California. She worked as a freelance journalist for several publications and also wrote pieces for the New York Times. At the Moth she did a series of hilarious, personal monologues and readings. She recently published her memoirs, Not What I Expected, a delightful account of her eventful life. Bo’s curiosity about all facets of life extended to spirituality, especially Tibetan Buddhism.

In 1978 on the advice of a Tibetan Buddhist Lama living in New York, Bo went to the Himalayan country of Sikkim where she was ordained as a Buddhist practitioner. This was the beginning of her attendance at Buddhist centers, as a result of which she became an accomplished meditator. That she could carry out these spiritual activities while living a full life of philanthropy, travel and entertainment was characteristic of her ability to unite the very different aspects of her dazzling personality. She produced and hosted Lunch with Bokara, a thirteen part television series on LINK TV in which she brought together notable teachers of many spiritual disciplines, most of whom were her close friends.

Bo was married first to Richard Mack. She later married Arthur Patterson with whom she remained close. She is survived by a sister, Landine Manigault of Noank, CT, two nieces and two nephews.

It is Bo’s sparkling and exuberant personality that her friends will best remember. No one could brighten up a party just by walking in the door as Bo could! She loved parties, and she loved her many, many friends. A memorial service is planned for the new year. Donations in her memory may be made to any of the charities listed above.

Published in The New York Times on December 7, 2017

Visit Guestbook for Bokara Hennen Legendre

Not What I Expected By Bokara Legendre
From Not What I Expected is a beautifully crafted memoir of adventure and seeking, the world crossing journey of an artist and journalist. It is one of those rare documents that emerges only from hard sleuthing through old trunks in storage, file cabinets, photo albums, and yellowing letters. It is also an account of a survivor of being raised during the gilded years of the first half of the 20th Century.

At first glance, it is a story of great privilege, partying among the upper levels of New York society, voyaging through the world to exotic places, meetings with spiritual teachers of the highest order like the Dalai Lama, painters, film producers, writers, and other shapers of the world in which we now live. In unique style, Bokara interviewed the famous, barbecued beef for a contingent of Tibetan lamas at her cliffside home in Big Sur, rode elephants and befriended Pandas, brought people together and transformed her own life.

At its heart, Not What I Expected is a story of the world of one who was raised by servants, isolated from her family’s plantation, struggling in the midst of ballrooms, meditation centers, and vast wild preserves, learning to find a true home in the world.

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USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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