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Jacqueline Quillen, Wine Expert, Was 77

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 09:16
Getty Images/Patrick McMullan

Jacqueline Loomis Quillen, a pioneer in the wine retail and importing business, died on Oct. 1, surrounded by her family, in the East Hampton house where her paternal grandfather, Dr. Alfred Lee Loomis, lived long ago. The family attributed her death to heart failure.

Ms. Quillen, who was 77, was also known for her elegant dinner parties, historical and humanitarian work, and love of the outdoors. Her extraordinary life took her from the once gritty, now thriving, business scene in New Orleans, to the Swiss Alps, where she twice climbed the Matterhorn, first at age 16 and again at 40.

"Jackie's idea of a life well lived consisted of four parts: the mind, to be nourished by constant travel, reading, and conversation, classical concert music, the great outdoors, and presiding over splendidly festive dinners at home," the family wrote. "Jackie's dining table -- and the fellowship she nurtured around it -- is where friends and family will remember her shining most brightly."

She was born in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 21, 1942, to William Farnsworth Loomis and Betty Blackmond Barton. She was educated at the Madeira School, a preparatory school for girls in McLean, Va., and later attended Radcliffe College for three years until 1963. That July, she married Parker S. Quillen, who was in the Navy; they separated and divorced late in 1978.

She completed her undergraduate work in 1973 at Tulane University's Newcomb College, and went on to earn an M.A. in English literature at Georgetown University. In 1974, while raising three young sons, she started a business called The Wine and Cheese Company on Magazine Street in New Orleans, well before the city became home to award-winning restaurants, shops, and galleries. It was one of the nation's first female-owned-and-operated wine retail and importing businesses, her family said. Along the way, she developed what one of her sons called "a kind of genius olfactory ability" to identify a wine's origins in "blind" tastings.

In an industry dominated by men, "the wine world soon took notice of her maiden venture in the Big Easy," her family said. In 1979, Michael Broadbent, a premier wine expert, recruited Ms. Quillen to establish and direct a wine department in North America for Christie's, the British auction house. She ran it for eight years. Forty-one years later, Christie's continues to offer fine and rare wines at auction in the United States.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation hired Ms. Quillen in 1987 to advise on the restoration and opening of President James Madison's 18th-century home in Montpelier Station, Va. For two years, she lived on the property to coordinate the work of historians, scholars, and congressional officers so that the historic estate could open in time for the 200th anniversary celebration of the Constitution of the United States.

In 1989, Ms. Quillen returned to Washington to join the team of the Rev. Harold C. Bradley, then head of Georgetown's Center for Immigration Policy and Refugee Assistance. There, she assisted with fund-raising for impoverished youth worldwide -- in the Jesuit tradition, all the programs were focused on education -- a mission she much valued. During that time, she also was a mentor to many young professionals.

Ms. Quillen loved the outdoors and wildlife, supporting various environmental groups and participating in numberless treks, climbs, and other adventures throughout her life. After her second ascent of the Matterhorn, a German journalist asked her if there was any difference between her two climbs. "The Matterhorn has gotten a lot taller," she replied.

An invitation to one of her dinner parties "guaranteed hours of great wine and food," all of which she prepared herself, "and far-ranging conversations with guests from around the world," her family said.

Ms. Quillen was a member of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, an exclusive wine club founded in 1934 in Cote d'Or, France, and taught many how to enjoy and taste wine. She was a member of the Sulgrave Club in Washington, D.C., and the Maidstone Club and the Garden Club of East Hampton, which her family said meant a great deal to her.

She served on the boards of several visual and performing arts organizations, among them the Young Concert Artists, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the poetry board of the Folger Shakespeare Library. She loved to read, and co-founded a book club about 25 years ago that still meets today.

Ms. Quillen is survived by her three sons, Parker L. Quillen and Whitney S. Quillen of East Hampton and Barton H. Quillen of Providence, R.I. Six grandchildren also survive.

She was cremated, with a celebration of her life to be held at a future time. Her family has suggested memorial donations to the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, P.O. Box 901, Wainscott 11975.

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