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A Romantic Legacy

Written By Jean Sexton

Posted 10/04/16

Updated 03/01/24

Estate History

William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, the younger son of Cornelia and John F. A. Cecil, was born at Biltmore in 1928. He attended schools in England and Switzerland before serving in the British Navy. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, William worked as a banker in the international department of Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City.

It was there that he met his future wife Mary “Mimi” Lee Ryan, daughter of textile manufacturer John J. Ryan, Jr., and granddaughter of prominent New York banker, lawyer, and builder James T. Lee. Mimi received her undergraduate degree from Vassar College and her law degree from the University of Michigan. Prior to her marriage, she was an attorney with the Manhattan firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham, and Taft.

A romantic beginning

The Cecils married on October 5, 1957, at St. Vincent Ferrer’s Roman Catholic Church in New York City. The bride wore a gown of white satin with a fitted bodice and a full skirt forming a cathedral train. She carried a lush bouquet of white roses, stephanotis, and English ivy. Her veil was a family heirloom originally worn in 1903 by her maternal grandmother, Margaret Merritt Lee, and also worn by her first cousin, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, at her 1953 wedding to future U.S. President John F. Kennedy. After the ceremony, a reception was held at the elegant River Club in the city.

In 1959, the Cecils moved to Asheville, North Carolina to manage Biltmore, the grand country estate created by Mr. Cecil’s grandfather George Vanderbilt. Their two children grew up in the family business whose mission is preserving Biltmore as a privately owned, profitable working estate. Today, William Cecil, Jr. serves as Biltmore’s CEO and Diana “Dini” Cecil Pickering is president of the Family Office.

The Biltmore Legacy

Today, estate guests have an opportunity to visit The Biltmore Legacy located in Antler Hill Village and view our Fashionable Romance exhibition featuring family wedding history and heirlooms, including Mrs. Cecil’s beautiful wedding gown, subsequently worn by her daughter-in-law Virginia Cecil and her daughter Dini Pickering.

The Lee Family Veil is also displayed in the exhibition along with a stunning recreation of the gown worn by Mr. Cecil’s mother Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and her original satin slippers. This outstanding collection of wedding-related fashion offers a rare glimpse into the lives of the fascinating family that has preserved Biltmore for generations to come.

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Experience the Beauty of Biltmore... for Less