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William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, Sr.


  • Name: William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, Sr.
  • Born: August 17, 1928
  • Parents: Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil
  • Spouse: Mary Lee “Mimi” Ryan, married 1957–2017
  • Children: William A. V. “Bill” Cecil, Jr., Diana “Dini” Cecil Pickering
  • Notable Projects: Management and preservation of Biltmore Estate, development of Biltmore Winery
  • Death: October 31, 2017

About William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, Sr.

“We don’t preserve Biltmore to make a profit. We make a profit to preserve Biltmore.”

—Mr. Cecil

Born at Biltmore

William A. V. Cecil was the younger of Cornelia and John Cecil’s two sons and a grandson of George and Edith Vanderbilt. Like his older brother George and his mother Cornelia, William was born in the grand Louis XV Bedroom in Biltmore House. Educated in England and Switzerland, he enlisted in the British Navy near the end of World War II. Afterwards, he attended Harvard University, graduating in 1952.

Returning To His Roots

William Cecil pursued a career in finance, serving as a representative of Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, and later as an officer with Chase’s international department based in Washington, D.C. In 1957, he married Mary Lee “Mimi” Ryan, a lawyer with a Wall Street firm. In 1960, the Cecils moved to Asheville, NC, with the intention of preserving Biltmore by growing tourism in the region.

The Business of Preservation

In the following decades, William Cecil—or “Mr. C” as he was affectionately known by Biltmore employees—propelled restorations to Biltmore House, renovations across the estate, and unparalleled growth for The Biltmore Company based on his unique business philosophy of a profitable private enterprise that supported historic preservation. He was a leader in envisioning winemaking in North Carolina, planting vineyards, hiring a French winemaker, and opening the Biltmore Winery in 1985 when the idea of a successful North Carolina winery was unimaginable.

A Remarkable Legacy

Although William Cecil retired from the company’s day-to-day operations in 1995, he continued to serve on the board of directors throughout his life. With a long-term mission to preserve Biltmore as a privately owned profitable estate, he spent most of his career nurturing his family business to become a leading economic contributor to Asheville. Biltmore now encompasses travel and tourism, hospitality, agriculture, wine, and licensed products, and is one of the area’s largest employers.

Images of William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, Sr.

William A. V. Cecil, Sr. (seated), with his son William A. V. "Bill" Cecil, Jr., in the Banquet Hall of Biltmore House, 1995.

William A. V. Cecil, Sr., in front of Biltmore House, 1985.

Mimi and William A. V. Cecil following their wedding, 1957.

William A. V. Cecil riding a tricycle, 1930.