Lady Yvonne Sursock Cochrane, philanthropist, longstanding defender of Lebanon’s architectural heritage and tireless promoter of the arts, has died at the age of 98.
Cochrane passed away Monday in hospital, from injuries sustained from the Beirut Port explosion, during which she had been at her home, Sursock Palace on Sursock street. Her family informed the press she had been injured during the explosion, which is said to have thrown her several meters from the terrace where she’d been taking tea. Her home, whose exquisite interiors had taken years to restore following Lebanon’s Civil War, were devastated by the blast and the palace rendered uninhabitable. Not a door or window in the entire house is intact.
Born in 1922, Lady Cochrane was the daughter of Alfred Bey Sursock and Donna Maria Teresa Serra di Cassano. A Greek Orthodox family who migrated from Istanbul, the Sursocks have been based in Lebanon since the 1700s. A daughter of merchant princes, Yvonne Sursock married Irish nobleman Sir Desmond Cochrane, later Ireland’s first consul to Lebanon, in 1946.
Cochrane was best known for her work promoting Lebanon’s architectural heritage. She founded The Association for the Protection of Natural Sites and Ancient Buildings and served as its president 1960-2002.
She also chaired and managed Sursock Museum, situated in a palace that her uncle Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock had endowed. Itself gutted by the Port blast, the institution opened as a traditional exhibition space in 1961 and was retooled this century as a state-of-the-art museum, reopening in 2015.
Cochrane’s interest in conservation saw her criticize the adverse environmental and aesthetic impact of Lebanon’s development. In a 2008 interview, she spoke sadly of the decline of the mountain regions’ rural life, something she tried to mitigate through the promotion of rural trades in agriculture, textiles and other handcrafts.
She expressed regret about environmental degradation on the Lebanese sea coast, remarking, “We had a wonderful sea. Now we can’t bathe anymore.”
“Lebanon & Beirut will miss you enormously,” UK Ambassador to Lebanon Chris Rampling tweeted of the woman he called “a queen of Beirut.”
Lady Cochrane’s funeral was held Tuesday, Sept. 1. She is survived by four children – Roderick, Alfred, Marc and Isabelle. Her son Roderick lives permanently at Sursock Palace with his wife Mary and their daughter Ariana.