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Ann Russell Miller

The socialite who became a nun

The Californian socialite Ann Russell Miller was an unlikely nun, says Adair Lara in the San Francisco Chronicle. Miller, who died last week aged 92, grew up rich in San Francisco – she was the daughter of a railway tycoon. By 20 she had married the vice president of a billion-dollar gas company, Richard Miller. By 27 she’d had five children – and she had five more. Half boys, half girls.

Described by one acquaintance as the “Rockefellers of the West Coast”, the Millers spent summers partying on Mediterranean yachts and weekends at their 660-acre estate on the Californian coast. At home in San Francisco, Ann threw dinner parties for Nancy Reagan and Loretta Young. She spent four days a week in the spa and her designer shoe collection made Imelda Marcos’s “look pitiful by comparison”.

But when Richard died in 1984, she gave it all up. She organised two separate family lunches – one for her daughters, one for her sons – and told them she was joining America’s strictest convent, the Carmelite nuns. She would renounce all her possessions, sleep on a wooden slat, refuse physical contact and take a vow of silence. She never did things by halves, says her daughter Elena Caruso: “She would eat the whole carton of ice cream or none of it.”

The night before she left for the convent, Ann threw a final party. More than 800 people showed up, alongside two live orchestras and caterers serving caviar. Throughout the evening she wandered around the room clutching a balloon that read “Here I am”, so friends could find her to say goodbye. “The first two-thirds of my life were devoted to the world,” she told guests. “The last third will be devoted to my soul.”