Brooke Astor, née Russell, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She grew up in various cities around the world including Beijing, Honolulu, and Panama City, following the career of her father, Maj. Gen. John H. Russell, who later became commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. She began writing as a child. She was married three times, the third time to Vincent Astor, the wealthy scion of the famous Astor family, and became a leader of New York high society. After her husband's death in 1959, Mrs. Astor took charge of the foundation to which he had left his estate, and took great delight in her ability to give away all the money to worthy causes. In 1998, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for this work. Her published works included numerous magazine articles; two novels, The Bluebird Is at Home (1965) and The Last Blossom on the Plum Tree: A Period Piece (1986); and two volumes of autobiography, Patchwork Child (1962) and Footprints (1980).