Felicia G. Magruder, Ex-Countess, Dies At 93
The New York Times, April 4, 1999
by ERIC PACE
Felicia Gizycka Magruder, an American heiress who was kidnapped as a child by her father, a continental count, died on Feb. 26 at the Regency retirement community in Laramie, Wyo. She was 93 and moved to Laramie from New Canaan, Conn., in 1995.
Mrs. Magruder was the former Countess Felicia Gizycka, the only daughter of the Chicago-born newspaper heiress Eleanor Medill Patterson and Count Josef Gizycki, a fortune-hunting scion of a noble Polish family. Ms. Patterson, who eventually divorced the count, was a granddaughter of Joseph Medill, the founder of The Chicago Tribune.
The little Countess Felicia, as the newspapers later called her, was born in 1905 in Blansko in what is now the Czech Republic.
In 1908, when Felicia was a golden-haired, blue-eyed toddler, The New York Times reported that she had been ”kidnapped in London by the Count,” who ”is thought to be either in Vienna or St. Petersburg and has concealed the child.” The Times said that earlier ”the Countess ran away from him with her child one night after a violent quarrel.”
The ensuing custody struggle led President-elect William Howard Taft to intervene with Czar Nicholas II of Russia, in whose realm the Gizycki family estates were located. In December 1908, Taft wrote the Czar pointing out Felicia’s mother’s connection to Russia and saying that the count had put the kidnapped toddler in a convent in Russia. Taft asked the Czar to ”make such order to Count Gizycki as shall seem to Your Majesty equitable.”
The Czar commanded the count to return Felicia to her mother, and when that happened, as one Patterson biographer has written, ”they caught the first train for Germany and from there took the first steamship to America.”
Lake Forest, Ill. became their home. Mrs. Magruder’s mother also bought a ranch in Wyoming, and there, as The Laramie Daily Boomerang reported in its obituary of Mrs. Magruder, an able young journalist named Drew Pearson ”came out to court Felicia.”
But things did not go smoothly, and the teen-age countess ”caught a train to San Diego, where she took an assumed name and supported herself as a waitress.” In a 1939 interview she said, ”I tell you, I was good” as a waitress.
”I could swing a mean tray,” she added. ”I always wanted to make my own way in life — it gives one a nice feeling.”
Undeterred, Pearson caught up with her. He is said to have made her a practical offer: ”Look, you’re only 18. Marry me now and in three years, if you don’t love me, you can leave and start your life all over again.” Their marriage began in 1925, produced a daughter, Ellen, and was ended in divorce by Mrs. Pearson after three years.
But what years they were, with the promising Pearson, who was not yet the mighty syndicated columnist he later became, taking his young wife to China and beyond, while he polished his journalistic skills.
In later years she wrote for American magazines and newspapers, lived in New York and elsewhere, and wrote novels and short stories. In her 1939 novel ”Flower of Smoke,” the Austrian-American heroine says, ”Make your own peace, no matter what.”
After living for years in New Canaan she moved for good to Wyoming, where she had relatives.
Her 1934 marriage to an Englishman, Dudley de Lavigne, ended in divorce. Her 1958 marriage to John Kennedy Magruder, a landscape architect and a director of the Alcoholics Anonymous Men’s Home in Alexandria, Va., also ended in divorce.
She is survived by a daughter, Ellen Pearson Arnold of San Diego; three grandsons, Joe and Drew Arnold of Laramie and George Arnold of Evanston, Wyo.; a granddaughter, and eight great-grandchildren.