“May all your pain be champagne”
Lexington — and Hamburg — lost an icon when Anita Madden passed away last month. Famed for her Derby Eve parties at the Maddens’ Hamburg Farm, one need only look up to any street sign in Hamburg to see evidence of her enduring legacy.
An unfailing ambassador for the racing industry and for Lexington, for four decades, her celebrations helped ensure that Lexington would earn its place as a Derby weekend destination, undiminished by the fact that the race is actually held in Louisville.
Her husband, Preston Madden, explained the origins of Hamburg’s street names in our July cover interview with the legendary retired horseman. “Before this end of the farm was developed, I was extremely busy breeding horses. I had 100 horses on the farm, so my son [Patrick] did the actual [Hamburg] development and my wife, Anita, named the streets. I think she did a hell of a job. My grandfather bred over 100 stakes winners. She had a list of 100-plus stakes winners —Sir Barton, first Triple Crown winner, and Alysheba were the obvious choices so she took from all of his stakes winners and my stakes winners.”
The Madden family transformed Hamburg Place into the thriving commercial corridor that it is today, but Anita Madden was just as well known as a hostess, socialite, and philanthropist.
UK Coach John Calipari memorialized her on facebook, “I’ve had the privilege of becoming good friends with Pat Madden during my time here and know what they mean to this community and what the community means to them. There will never be another like Anita Madden. She was a trailblazer in every sense of the word and she will be greatly missed.”
“Behind the blond wig and feather boa was a private person. A deep intellect who could care less if some judged her harshly for her flamboyance and who embraced the friendship of those who didn’t. She used her fame to help others less fortunate.”
—21c co-founder Steve Wilson
21C co-founder, Steve Wilson, described her as a “free spirit and an inspiration,” writing on the eve of her memorial service, “I will always remember the first time I was with her. It was the early 70s. I was in my first job out of college working for Lt. Gov. Carroll and barely out of the white socks I used to wear on the farm in West Kentucky. The Governor sent me over to Hamburg Place to give Anita Derby tickets the night before the races. When I got there, her famous Derby Eve Party was in full swing. Anita pulled me out on the dance floor where she put the tickets in the bodice of her gown —the skin tight sequined costume certainly had no pockets. I was transfixed! Over the years, I became close friends with Anita and Preston. We enjoyed conversation over drinks at the bar in their home as movie stars, sports figures and racing clients came and went…Surely, the fact that Anita gave Preston a buffalo for a birthday present had nothing to do with the fact that Laura Lee and I eventually started raising buffalo of our own (I don’t think so).
“Anita was a complex character. Behind the blond wig and feather boa was a private person. A deep intellect who could care less if some judged her harshly for her
flamboyance and who embraced the friendship of those who didn’t. She used her fame to help others less fortunate.
When we opened the 21c Museum Hotel Lexington, I was thrilled to have Anita sitting front and center for a performance straight out of her handbook. I think she knew she inspired me. I know she knew I loved her…. When I attend her service tomorrow will I wear a black suit or a gold dinner jacket?”
Lexington mayor Jim Gray echoed the description of her egalitarian ethic, saying, “she celebrated the unusual and she welcomed everyone regardless of their station in life.”
Hamburg resident Jackie Long said, “I was fortunate enough to attend one of her Derby Eve parties with a group of fantastic friends. Anita knew how to throw a party! Later, I had the privilege of being a guest at her home for several political events. And, I even had a couple of memorable conversations with her. I was always struck by how genuinely down to earth and nice she was. I will never forget sitting at the bar at Bravo Pitino with her listening intently as she told us about all the rich ladies she knew who ‘went to the same doctor in the desert’ and they all came out looking the same!”
She will be missed for her style, her sense of humor, and her compassion.
Hamburg mourns her loss.
Memorial donations in honor of Anita Madden may be made to The Bluegrass Boys’ Ranch, P.O. Box 12128, Lexington, Ky., 40580
The exhibit displayed many of her infamous Derby Eve dresses, and photos by Louis Zoeller Bickett. LexArts wrote, “Her fashion was as fabulous as the parties themselves and the crowds crooned and swooned as she made her entrance. For many of the ‘3,000 or so of her most intimate friends’ lucky enough to attend the parties, photographs were sometimes the only proof of the evening.
This article also appears on page 7 of the November 2018 print edition of Hamburg Journal.
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