Joan Mackie looks down at her left hand, startled for a second that it’s missing one of her family’s ancestral rings. She usually wears it, though not right now. Tonight, she’s attending a spring benefit for Radnor Memorial Library at Ardrossan, her family’s Villanova estate.
The adopted daughter of Mary Binney Montgomery Wheeler, Mackie was never viewed as anything but family. The ring in question—a gift from her grandfather’s sister, Mary Montgomery Halsey—was bestowed on her just after her adoption. She was 2 months old.
Mary Binney (family and friends used both names) married steel industry executive John Pearce Wheeler when Mackie was 3. Mackie lived at Ardrossan until her parents married. All six grandchildren of Col. Robert Leaming Montgomery and Charlotte Hope Binney (Tyler) Montgomery resided on the estate at some point. Mackie is the youngest. Her sister, Mary von Czoernig, whom Binney also adopted as a single mother, died in 2011. Three others—Edgar Scott Jr., Robert Montgomery and Alix Montgomery Estey—are still living.
Mackie’s parents met at a family birthday party and married six months later. That first night, Mary intentionally left a compact behind on the ride home. John, who that night pledged to marry her in three months, had to call again—if only to return it.
Mackie often visited her grandmother at the manor house. “We all did,” she says. “There was a tea every afternoon, and we could come if we wanted. She was the most charming woman on earth and took such a genuine interest in people. I still get teary-eyed. I adored her.”
Mackie cherishes her ring—a sign of the acceptance her mother’s family had for the adopted children. She also treasures a drawing Mrs. Montgomery did as an 11-year-old. “She was so artistic, but her main interest was family,” Mackie says. Mackie says existing family members are doing more to give back to the community lately, while also recognizing the need to protect the house. The family is working only with organizations that “mean some-thing to us,” Mackie says. The library is one, and the Radnor Conservancy is another.
The house itself lifts Mackie’s spirits. “Everything they lived with is still here,” she says. “It’s all original. The silver is in the silver closet, the china in the china closet—exactly where it was. It all speaks to a time, and there’s not a lot of that lifestyle that’s left in this country. My grandmother always said this was a party house, and she would be so happy that it still is.”
Every Sunday night, there was a family supper. On a rotational basis, Mrs. Montgomery would allow someone to bring a guest. “It added more energy, she thought,” says Mackie.
Today, she still feels “the spirit” of her grandmother at Ardrossan. “The house is warm because of her,” Mackie says.