How Blaine and Robert Trump Quietly Ruled 1980s New York

Bob Morris
·8 mins read
Photo credit: Designed by Michael Stillwell - Getty Images
Photo credit: Designed by Michael Stillwell - Getty Images

From Town & Country

One night, decades ago when imposing hair, shoulder pads and gala chairwomen in Lacroix and Dior ruled Manhattan, Blaine Trump was out with Robert Trump, her then husband. A reporter approached and said, “I’ve contacted 99 people to get them to say something mean about you and nobody has.”

The polite young Mrs. Trump looked at her spotlight-shunning husband (who had just quit working for his brother Donald’s company due to a quarrel) unsure how to respond. “I may have said I’m really sorry about that,” she tells T&C with a laugh.

Photo credit: John Lamparski - Getty Images
Photo credit: John Lamparski - Getty Images

Robert Trump died suddenly last week at age 71; his funeral took place yesterday. He and Blaine split in 2008, and she’s been out of the fray, having moved to Miami after her tabloid-ready divorce. Since then she has pulled back as one of New York’s most visible fundraisers.

Blaine wasn't able to travel for Robert's funeral, but posted a sweet memory of her former husband to Instagram.

At present she is riding out the pandemic in Beverly Hills away from the hot Miami weather and bad Covid numbers, renting a house with entrepreneur Steven Simon, her partner of several years, to be near her son from her brief first marriage to Peter Retchin, Christopher Trump-Retchin. (Robert adopted Christopher when he and Blaine married.)

“I don’t use my name out here because I know it isn’t popular,” she says. Over the years she’s gone by her maiden name and even sometimes Miss Blaine.

Against the odds, this soft-spoken Trump-in-law has always managed to stay above the fray of Trump land and fashioned herself a highly regarded, easy-going champion philanthropist. If the Trump name stands for something bold and grabbing, she represents something else that we expect of power families—noblesse oblige, political bridge-building, and self-deprecation.

“Being a princess can be good and bad, but for me it wasn’t that hard to thrive,” she says about her entrance into the family in the early 1980s, after Donald Trump’s first major Manhattan real estate projects, the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central Station, had been completed, but before her brother-in-law caused one of his first controversies by knocking down the old landmarked Bonwit Teller department store to build his Fifth Avenue Tower. “Donald and Ivana were larger than life and Robert and I kept a lower profile.”

Even in a world in which charity events can unleash a multitude of sins, including competitiveness, narcissism, and hauteur, Blaine is beloved. Arnold Scassi, the scissor mouthed designer once tried. “You’re getting to be like Mary Tyler Moore, and I’ve never heard anything bad about her either,” he told her. “There must be something wrong with you.”

“Maybe there is,” says Trump, now 63, who has no children from her 25 years with Robert Trump and keeps resolutely mum on politics. “I try to see the good in everyone, but sometimes you do have to put your guard up.” Facility with a sports metaphor comes easily to the basketball fan, a high school athlete herself, who was introduced to Simon by coach Pat Riley at a Miami Heat game. “In New York you need a protective shield.”

Trump’s crowning philanthropic achievement was to help start God’s Love We Deliver, a food delivery organization for AIDs patients, in the Reagan years, when uptown society was barely acknowledging the pandemic. She lead the way with two older uptown society dames, Patricia Buckley and Judy Peabody. Since 1985, the organization has served over 20 million meals to people with AIDS and cancer.

“Blaine decided back then that even with all the fear and lack of knowledge, serving nutritious food to people at home was something she could help achieve, and she rolled up her sleeves to do it,” says Michael Kors, a fellow board member who thinks younger fundraisers have shorter attention spans when it comes to causes. “Blaine just brought everyone in.”

Photo credit: Ron Galella - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ron Galella - Getty Images

That included her friend Deborah Norville, the “Inside Edition” anchor. When Trump was trying to save the organization money as it built its Avenue of the America headquarters, she called Norville up, knowing she was from Dalton, Georgia, the carpet capital of the world. “Blaine wanted to see if I knew anyone to get her a deal on carpet squares,” Norville says. “I can imagine she did the same thing with people for the office furniture and HVAC.”

If her work with God’s Love We Deliver had her in the trenches with a tough sell, her affiliation with the American Ballet Theater’s opening night gala at the Metropolitan Opera House had her in more rarefied air, especially when, decades ago, Jacqueline Kennedy called her to insist she help save the organization from financial uncertainty by bringing in new donors.

“Blaine was always very gentle with the ask,” said Peter Lyden, who oversaw fundraising for the company at the time and observed his share of the “tough cookies” you find around high- profile charities. Trump, a southern girl whose father, as an executive with IBM, raised the family in Japan where she learned Japanese, made calls to Sean Driscoll and Robert Isabell, the best caterer and florist in town, and talked them into providing free services. She escorted donor after donor to rehearsals and always made sure she said hello to every dancer and staff member.

One night she walked out of a special ABT performance in Harlem into a raging blizzard. “We were leaving the Apollo Theater,” Lyden recalls. “The snow was up to our knees and we were standing outside very upset and unable to get any kind of transportation home.”

One ballerina had on toe shoes. Trump went backstage and found her boots. Then she corralled the entire group, including Carolina Herrera and Jackie Weld Drake, told them not to be nervous and led the way downtown. “That’s Blaine,” says Lyden, who now runs the Institute for Classical Architecture and Art and remembers working beside her at 5:30 in the morning serving holiday meals at God’s Love We Deliver. “She gets things done with grace and humor.”

Audrey Gruss, who walked the same world in ballgowns and jewels, agrees that Trump managed to be perceived as separate from the famous family with its real estate empire.

“They had a strong and brash name, but she represented the elegant side of it, setting herself apart in a positive way,” says Gruss, who found Trump’s laser focus on just two charities the inspiration for her own, Hope For Depression. “She had her own image and it didn’t matter if she was a Trump because people supported her, not the family associated with the name.”

But Trump, who attended the 2016 inauguration and received a call from the President when her ex-husband died, accepts that her name helped open doors and crowbar donor wallets in the day. Right now, she’s glad to be laying as low as possible, especially in Los Angeles where she is well aware that a connection to the Trump family would not be celebrated. (Not long ago a bullet came through her high-rise apartment window in Miami and she had to wonder why.)

Photo credit: Dimitrios Kambouris - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dimitrios Kambouris - Getty Images

“People are so divided now,” she sighs “Not growing up in this country, I always had such positive feelings for America but right now we’re not going in a healthy direction.”

She has, in fact lost friends because of her brother-in-law and has studiously avoided discussions with others until after the election. “I’ll keep flying under the radar a little while longer,” she says.

Trump is used to adapting. As an awkwardly tall teen in Japan she once dyed her hair darker to hide her conspicuous blondness. And even as someone so popular she was called “Darling Blaine” and “Nouvelle Society’s Ingenue” by gossip columnists, she knows how to live the high life while laying low. Case in point: While she’s not as hands-on a New Yorker as she once was, she retains her Vice Chairmanship at God’s Love We Deliver, keeps an historic pied-a-terre on Central Park South, and shows up for the big ABT spring benefit gala, where she remains an honorary trustee.

And she’s hopeful for the future. “One thing’s for sure,” she says. “I’m not giving up on this country.”

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