For as long as I’ve lived here, Boca resident the Countess Henriettta de Hoernle has been a legendary philanthropist—with a decidedly down-to-earth demeanor despite the title. She lived relatively modestly, was not above shaming her peers into giving more, and lived by the motto: “Give while you live so you know where it goes.”
De Hoernle died last Friday at 103 after decades of giving her money away—her name and that of her late husband are on 50 buildings in Boca (and beyond) and her largesse has included gifts to Palm Beach State College, Lynn University and Northwood (now Kaiser) University, Caridad Center, the Red Cross, the Habilitation Center for the Handicapped, Girls and Boys Club the YMCA of Boca Raton and many more—to the tune of $40 million or more.
I recall the brouhaha in the 1990s when the then-Boca News called her out on her honorary Knights of Malta title and she was upset enough to threaten leaving town. The whole city rallied behind her at a reception at the train depot and all was forgiven. She was our countess, after all, and Boca let her know it would love her if she was the Sultan of Swing. Then there was the day she came to our offices for an interview and a photograph. She had her own driver, but the car was something modest, like a Buick. As she settled into our conference room she placed an old cookie tin on the table. “It’s where I keep my tiara,” she explained. Then there was the time at her 100th birthday party when she blessed me out for using a picture she did like of herself in our magazine.
The Countess could be prickly and she could be impatient. But she was a woman of great generosity who carefully researched where she wanted her money to go—and helping the less fortunate ranked high on her list. Most of all, she literally put her money where her mouth was—and you can’t say that about many people.
Boca Raton will miss this woman, and we at Boca magazine share in the city’s gratitude for all she did.
Services are scheduled for Aug. 6 at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, 100 NE Mizner Blvd., in Boca Raton. A viewing will begin at 9:30 a.m. with the funeral at 10:30.