A beaming, powerful light went out in this world in the early hours of July 24th, 2017, with the peaceful passing of Renee Grace Cary, 91, our beloved mother and grandmother, sister and friend. Renee led a fascinating life – A TRULY WONDERFUL LIFE, in the words of Frank Capra. And to share her remarkable journey of bravery and determination, hard work and love, is to understand why fortitude and dedication embraced her throughout her life and radiated to those around her.
Renee was born on March 29th, 1926 in Istanbul, Turkey to Grace de Botton and Jaime ‘Jacques’ Scialom. Jaime, a businessman and exporter of tobacco and coffee, was born in Salonica, Greece, but resided in Turkey. Renee’s mother, Grace, was born in New York of Greek parents. She was a virtuoso pianist and graduated from Barnard College. Renee’s maternal grandfather, Issac, and the legendary tenor, Enrico Caruso, were best friends and would often sing together in the neighborhoods of old New York!
In 1922, Grace, with her mother and sister, Lucy, moved to Paris where Grace was enrolled in the Sorbonne, and it was here, in 1925, that she and Jaime were married. Renee was born a year later in Istanbul. As a family, they travelled frequently across Europe. Renee recalled traveling on a train when her father excused himself to conduct a business meeting with a gentleman in another carriage. He returned to declare that the meeting with the ‘mad Greek’ was a disaster. “He wants me to invest in a bunch of old ships!”. That Mad Greek was Aristotle Onassis.
In 1933, the family, which now included younger brother, Claude, moved to the more cultural city of Prague, and remained there for 3 years. Here Renee attended the English Grammar School, but the family also spent much time in Paris, where Renee attended the MacJannets School and summer camp – the same school attended by Prince Phillip and Indira Ghandi.
World War II was looming and as the Nazi’s occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Renee’s family were unable to return. War was declared in September 1939, and the family, including Renee’s grandmother, travelled south to Pau – near the Spanish border. Here they remained until 1940, when they were able to obtain passports. With only one suitcase, they escaped in a taxi, over the Pyrenees and across the Spanish border to Barcelona, at the same time as film star, Madeleine Carroll, and the group of children she was helping to save. They never again saw their 4 cousins, who were later deported to the Paris ghetto of Drancy and then to Auschwitz, where they perished in 1944.
In Spain, the only meat available to them came from the bulls killed in the ring every Sunday! Renee’s father finally joined them, but shortly after, Claude, age 9, suddenly and tragically died. Two days days later, stunned with grief, the family took the train to Lisbon, Portugal – they were one of the last groups allowed to leave Spain as Franco closed the border. From Lisbon they sailed to Rio De Janeiro on an abandoned WW1 German boat. It took them 23 days. Four months later they sailed to New York City. Renee recalled getting up at 5am to see the Statue of Liberty for the first time! It was 1941. She was 15 and had attended 9 different schools and spoke 5 languages.
Renee finished 9th grade at the Joan of Arc Junior High School in New York City, and then completed High School at the NYC Horace Mann School for Girls where she graduated in 1944. Meanwhile, a new brother, Jim, was born in 1942.
After receiving the highest Regent’s Mark in the NY State math exams, Renee was accepted at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She majored in French Literature and graduated with honors in 1948. Renee said that the happiest years of her life were those spent at Mount Holyoke, and her devotion and dedication to her college lasted her whole life.
After graduation, Renee returned to a devastated Europe and was offered a job with the United Nations . But because of the Berlin Air Lift and the threat of war with Russia, she returned to New York and got her first job as a Tour Guide for NBC at Rockefeller Plaza, and was later promoted to the sales department. She met the likes of Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. She also met Peter Mustaki (Cary), a native New Yorker, and they were married in 1952. Over the next 5 years, Peter and Renee moved to 4 different states and had their three children along the way: Chris, Craig and Pam. At each location, Renee set up home, took on volunteer work and supported her husband, and made friends that stayed with her all her life. As a member of the American Association of University Women, Renee volunteered at one of America’s first Public Television stations, KQED in San Francisco. When the family moved south, she volunteered with the actress, Marsha Hunt, at the UNICEF gift shop on Ventura Blvd., and then became head of all UNICEF card sales in Southern California. In 1964, The Cary family moved to London, England, as Peter became Vice President of European Distribution and Sales for Desilu Productions, the production company owned by Lucille Ball, and later Paramount Television. Renee had returned to Europe, and remained there for the next 36 years.
As well as raising her family, building a home and supporting her husband in his career in London, Renee continued with her passion of bringing people together, providing opportunities and opening doors, and encouraging a world prospective. For Mount Holyoke, among so many contributions, she organized and implemented the very first European Alumnae Symposium in 1987. This extraordinary gathering brought together European alumnae from all over the continent and has grown to cover over 25 countries , precipitating the formation of the Mount Holyoke European Alumnae Council. Renee was a trustee of her beloved college from 1994 – 1999. and was awarded the Alumnae Medal of Honor for her service that continued until her passing. She was an active member and on the board of the American Women’s Club in London, organizing and establishing many events encouraging education and the arts. An avid collector of antiques, she also purchased for a shop in California. She loved the theater, opera and symphony, and penguins.
Renee’s part time move to Santa Barbara in 1997, to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren, eventually became full time, and for the past 8 years she loved living at Vista Del Monte Retirement Community. There too, as she had done all her life, she was active on committees, brought friends together with Fireside Chats and the French Table, and organized the movie nights every week. She continued to travel the world and never allowed her failing sight nor her lack of mobility stop her doing what she loved.
Renee leaves behind her loving children: Pam (Santa Barbara), Craig (New Zealand) and Chris (London); grandchildren George and Harry Croton, Grace Gibbs, Robin Hacker Cary and Dan and Tom Cary, and brother, Jim Scalem; and so many friends and colleagues she touched around the world with her radiant smile, compassionate nature and selflessness.
Please join us for a Celebration of A Wonderful Life on Saturday, October 14th from 3 – 5pm at Vista Del Monte Retirement Community: 3775, Modoc Road, Santa Barbara CA 93101.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Renee’s honor to Visiting Nurses and Hospice Care at 512, East Gutierrez Street, Suite A, Santa Barbara, CA 93103. Renee’s family are forever grateful for the wonderful, loving and supportive care Renee received while at Serenity House. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.