Gary deLisser was born Ruth Louise Turner, the first of five siblings, to Jacob Austin Turner and Sarah Susan Hammerick in Statesville, North Carolina on May 25, 1908. She attended Fassifern School for Girls in Hendersonville, North Carolina where she worked her way through. Between 1935 and 1936 Ruth (Gary) met and married Wilton Garrison, a graduate of Lee University in Washington, DC. He worked for the Charlotte Observer as a sports writer and later became the Sports Editor for the same newspaper. During her brief marriage to Wilton Garrison she began painting under the name of Gary Garrison and traveled to and from New York City trying to get her career started as a portrait artist. Her marriage to Wilton Garrison dissolved late in 1937 or early 1938 and Gary moved to New York City permanently.
Gary lived at 277 Park Avenue, Apt. #5. The building was built in 1924 and was located between 47th and 48th Street and from Park Avenue to Lexington Avenue. It had a lavish Italian style garden in the courtyard. There was also a restaurant on the first floor that would deliver meals to the door of any tenant. Sand was brought in on the roof for the tenants to sunbath and gather for social activities. Residing in the building were some of society’s most notable names and Gary made quite a few acquaintances that helped to further her career.
Some of the more notable tenants that resided in the building:
Admiral William Halsey – Leading American Naval Commander of WWII. He led the first US attacks on Japan. He won the Navy Cross during WWII. Admiral Halsey and Mrs. Halsey were on the Board of the Navy League Committee and Gary did a lot of charity work for this committee.
Morton Downey – Famous singer and good friend of Joseph Kennedy. Morton sang in such clubs as the Stork Club and Club “21″. The Ritz Carlton obtained him for many benefit shows.
Ed Wynn – Actor that did mostly small parts. Widely known as the manager of the Stork Club.
Ilka Chase – Author and Actress. Her mother was the editor of Vogue Magazine. She was also a radio personality and religious advocate.
Pearl Buck – Author and Pulitzer Prize winner for her many books about China.
Peggy Wood – Actress
General John J. Pershing – Highly decorated officer that served in WWI and WWII. He was also an active member of the New York Navy League. His son, F. Warren Pershing, was also involved in WWII and the Navy League.
The Kennedy Family
Jean Grahame – Her father was the first Vice President of Globe Indemnity Insurance Company and a descendant of Paul Mumford, an early Governor of Rhode Island. She was a friend of Gary’s and was also active in the Navy League Committee and the British American Ambulance Corps.
Between 1937 and 1940 Gary traveled quite a bit doing portraits. Most of the articles she kept of her travels begin in 1938.
April 10, 1938 – Gary is in the Palm Beach Post as she paints a portrait of FiFi Harding, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry K. Harding. Mr. Harding is an attorney and seems to be close friends of the Spalding’s. There was a benefit party and Gary offered a portrait sitting to the person who collects the most money for charity.
December 1938 – Gary is in the Charlotte Observer with Miss Nancy Hill, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. George Hill of New York. The article reflects that she has completed portraits of Marlene Dietrich, Esme O’Brien as well as an exhibition of her work to be shown in Florida in January 1939.
In 1939 there is a lovely picture of Gary dining at Versailles in New York.
June 16, 1939 – A newspaper article showing her having lunch at the ’21′ Club. Jack Kriendler is the owner of this fine dining establishment and wine is their specialty. The article mentions that Gary has just returned from a visit with Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Farquharson of Toronto.
December 1939 – Gary is shown in the Chicago Herald as she delivers a portrait of Donald M. Nelson, Vice President of Sears and Roebuck. This portrait was a Christmas present from Mrs. Nelson. Gary continues to stay in Chicago at the Drake Hotel. The article shows her sitting on a sofa and lists some of her accomplishments having added portraits of Fred Fisher, Vice President of General Motors, Ethel Dupont, wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt and their son, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr.
Gary’s clippings from 1941 seem to focus on being involved in various charities. Those charities include Sister Kenny Foundation, New York Women’s Council of the Navy League, The British War Relief Society, The National Association of Day Nurseries, White Elephant Association, United Committee for French Relief, United China Relief, Cinderella Ball and the Debutante Committee. An article on January 5, 1941 is about a celebration for the President’s birthday. This is a costume party, Mardi-Gras style, that also benefits the Paralysis Fund. By the end of January Gary and Vivian Fairchild are planning the Scotch Ball for the British American Ambulance Corp. They dress in Scotch quilts and serve guests at the Ball.
Gary marries Dick deLisser on May 9, 1941. Helen Stedman and Alfred Busiel are attendants and the ceremony is held at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Dick at this time is the president of Robert Donald Inc. Dick is a man of many business ventures. From hob-knobbing with movie stars in the cosmetic business of Lady Ester to Import trading with his connections of his home land, Jamaica, he too is a most interesting fellow.
June 13, 1941 – The Home Legion drive to collect cigarettes and small gifts for the boys in service training. This legion was mostly composed of mothers, sisters, wives and sweethearts. Gary headed this legion and gave a tea party at her apartment to plan the drive.
September 6, 1941 – Gary is in Hollywood to paint the portrait of Alice Faye. Dick and Gary stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Friends of Dick’s, Alfred and Verbina Hubbard, gave a birthday party that was held at Mocambo’s.
Other functions Dick and Gary attended and are featured in newspapers include:
January 24, 1942 – Dick and Gary are seen at the Metropolitan Opera House attending a performance by Lily Pons in The Daughter of the Regiment.
February 16, 1942 – Valentine Party given by the Navy Relief at the Cotillion Room of the Pierre.
April 1942 – A cocktail party at El-Morrocco given by the American Women’s Voluntary Services.
April 12 and 29, 1942 – The Navy Relief Society gives a party at the Le Cog Rouge. Gary served on the ticket committee and decorated with Brenda Fraizer, Vivian Spalding and Helen Stedman.
June 19, 1942 – Gary hosts a dinner for Joan La Roche at the Stork Club.
June 24, 1942 – Gary holds a luncheon for Mrs. Henry J. Taylor to plan the USO Benefit Party at the Stork Club.
June 1941 – Captain Alastair Mackintosh gives a dinner at the Cotillion Room of the Pierre. Gary is in attendance.
July 5th 1942 – The Navy League, an organization Gary belongs to sponsors a parade in the streets of New York for the China Relief Fund with Mme. Chiang Kai-Shek. Lily Pons sings for the show. Gary is very involved in this event.
July 17, 1942 – Gary is involved in a Swimming Party to collect funds and items for the welfare of the enlisted men and women. Other women that worked on this committee with her were Mrs. Henry J. Taylor and Mrs. John Jacob Astor.
Now in all these parties during the forties the same influential people attended. If they were not good friends they were close associates. Repeated names in the articles from the New York Times between the early forties and 1948 include Brenda Fraizer, Cobina Wright, Jr. and mother, Anne and Anthony Norman (cousin of the Duke of Sutherland), Harriet and Authur Little (doctor in England), Jeanne Grahame (she lived at 277 Park Avenue and her father was the First Vice President of Globe Indemnity Insurance), Marie Louise Aigeltinger (debutant making her debut in 1940 and served with Gary in many charities), Joan La Roche, Lily Pons (Opera Singer), Jean Perkins, Eleanor Bauby Leahy (Wife of Admiral Lamar Leahy who was killed in the War and strong members of the Navy League), Frances de Bethencourt (Pilot officer in the Royal Air Force during WWII and understudy in acting), Lady Iris Mountbatten, Lady Decies, Duke and Dutchess of Sutherland (Clair and Gordic), Archduke Robert of Austria, Jayne and Tex Feldman (Oil tycoon in Texas), Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. Taylor, and Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor.
Also during this time there was a growing list of clients that were also friends. The exact date of each portrait is difficult to determine. These clients were Margot Fairchild (Vivian’s sister), Vivian Fairchild Spalding, Helen Stedman Briggs, Donald M. Nelson (President of Sears and Roebuck as well as the President of the Motion Movie Picture Association at it’s beginning), FiFi Harding (daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Hill of New York), Marlene Dietrich (Actress), Esme O’Brien and Esmond O’Brien (granddaughter and son of Judge O’Brien of the Supreme Court), Jack Kriendler (Owner of the 21 Club), Ethel DuPont (Wife of President Roosevelt) and son Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., Fred Fisher (Vice President of General Motors), Alice Faye (Actress), Josette Daly, Miss Marty Moore of Virginia, Dolores Hale (daughter of Mr. and Mrs. F. Hale, owners of the Lombardy Hotel)), Walter Phelps Jacob (President of General Bronze Corp.) James Marshall Stewart (and six of his family members, prominent New York attorney), Mrs. Frederick Frost (Josette’s sister), Cobina Wright Jr., Jane Pickens (One of the Pickens sisters in a singing group on many radio station s and in many Night Clubs. Also became the wife of Walter Hoving, President of Tiffany’s New York), Lt. Nickie Toerge (son of Norman Toerge of the marine Corps), Frederika Lawrence (won portrait sitting at function) and The Dutchess of Sutherland and children.
August 16, 1942 finds Gary and Dick leaving the Big Apple with some of their socialite friends and traveling to Greenville, SC to visit Gary’s sister, Mary Sue and her husband, Bill Gaines. They attend a dinner with Bill and Mary Sue given by the Greenville Times Newspaper. Bill is a writer for the newspaper and Mary Sue has become an active political voice in Greenville.
August 20, 1942 – The Navy League hosts another Swimming Party at the River Club. The speaker for this event Eleanor Leahy, is also a close friend of Gary’s. Her husband, Admiral Lamar Leahy was killed during the War. Eleanor and Gary correspond through many letters as the years go by and lose contact with each other in the late seventies.
August 31, 1942 – The Navy League has their 40th Anniversary Party and Gary is Chairman of the Committee.
September 11, 1942 – Gary is in Palm Beach, Florida for an exhibition of her work. The article shows pictures of Gary hanging her work.
In September of 1942, Gary’s friend, Josette is writing for an undisclosed newspaper and writes an article about Gary. “Gary can always be called upon to aid in organizing functions. Gary devotes most of her time to the Navy League, she is also the Chairman of the White Elephant Party and has been offered the Chairmanship of the Junior Committee of the Scotch Ball. She has recently completed a portrait of Lt Nickie Toerge, one of Helen Stedman and is to present the China Relief Party an oil portrait of General Hu Shih of China to be auctioned off and funds used for War expense. Gary has donated many times as door prizes to paint the portrait of the winner of the fund raising event of the White Elephant Party. The most recent winner was Miss Frederika Lawrence of Tuxedo Park.”
October 4, 1942 – Gary heads the thrift store rummage receiving drive for the White Elephant Party’s Child Placement and Adoption Committee. By collecting clothing and household items that can be sold, the funds are used to support the overwhelming number of children without homes as they work to get them placed with loving families. Gary, Vivian, Josette and Helen organize and share the shifts at the Thrift Store. Mrs. Henry J. Taylor is the President of the White Elephant Committee and Gary hosts a Tea Party for her at her home.
On October 11, 1942 the United China Relief Committee is to observe China Independence week with another large party. Gary and Helen head up the committee to pan the events.
October 28, 1942 – The National Catholic Committee service observes Navy Day with a Home Front Drive. Brenda Fraizer and Gary directed the booths for the dance. Gary makes banners for the podiums that Mrs. Roosevelt will be sitting in front of.
November 6, 1942 – Josette writes another column in regards to “Helen and Vivian being best friends until Vivian moved to Havana with Jesse. Vivian gave Brenda Fraizer a run for her money in competition for glamour girl back in 1938. Josette and her husband, Warren, are giving a cocktail party for Vivian to celebrate her second anniversary on December 27th. Helen and John are living in Langley Field, Virginia after their marriage in November.”
December 18, 1942 – Gary is heading the Junior Committee for the Red, White and Blue Tea Dance and Cocktail Party given on the roof of the St. Regis (Viennese).
December 20, 1942 – The Navy League has a theater benefit called “The Three Sisters”. Gary served as an officer of the council.
Gary Turner deLisser was the sister of James A. turner, Jr., Founder of National Welders Supply Company. She was a renowned artist made famous by her exceptional portraits as well as her extensive volunteer work performed during World War II. Born in Henrietta, North Carolina, Ms. deLisser moved to New York in the late 1930’s where she quickly became one of the city’s more interesting socialites. Her portfolio included portraits of well-known actresses, established bankers, highly regarded servicemen and both the Churchill and Kennedy families.
Ms. deLisser maintained a long history of fund-raising for the support and care of animals. She was instrumental in helping to establish the Humane Society on the island of Jamaica., where her husband, Donald, and his family owned most of the hotels in Montego Bay. In 2005, the Humane Society of Charlotte, North Carolina, was able to open a new spay-neuter clinic thanks in large part to a generous donation from Ms. deLisser’s estate to honor her wishes. The new clinic will increase the capacity of the Humane Society to provide low-cost spay and neuter services to the public, and will decrease the number of unwanted dogs and cats that sadly often end up in the shelters of the Animal Control Bureau and the Humane Society.