A Gentle Goodbye

By 10:15 a.m., a silver-gray Mercedes had already brought the flower arrangements sent by Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor and the Dutch royal family. Shortly after noon, Audrey Hepburn’s pale oak coffin arrived, borne by six men she had held dear: her companion, Robert Wolders; her sons, Sean and Luca; her friend Hubert de Givenchy; her brother Jan; and her second husband, Andrea Dotti. Hepburn’s first husband, Mel Ferrer, looking frail and teary-eyed, hung far back in the throng of 120 invited guests who filed quietly into the tiny stone church in the Swiss village of Tolochenaz on Jan. 24. As the mourners-who included actors Roger Moore and Alain Delon, as well as Yul Brynner’s widow, Doris—lined up to sign the guest book, Hepburn’s 32-year-old son spotted his father standing alone. “Come, Papa,” Sean called to Ferrer. The two men embraced, then entered the chapel together.

Inside, the ocher stone Eglise de Tolochenaz was crowded but calm. “She was an angel in the biblical sense,” said Pastor Maurice Eindiguer, 83, the retired minister who had married Hepburn and Ferrer in 1954 and baptized Sean. His voice broke as he conjured up the woman who had died of colon cancer four days before. “Even in her illness, she visited those children of Somalia,” he said. “And in their faces was a light reflected from her smile.”

After the pastor’s eulogy, Sean spoke. “Last Christmas Eve,” he said, “Mummy read a letter to us written by a writer she admired….’Remember [it said], if you ever need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm. As you get older, you must remember that you have a second hand. The first one is to help yourself, the second one is to help others.’ ”

Hepburn was buried in a small cemetery 200 yards from the peach-colored villa she called La Paisible, “the peaceful place.” Switzerland, especially the rolling hills and orchards around Lake Geneva, had been her refuge since 1966; she had come there to wed both her husbands, to rest during her pregnancies and give birth to her children. This was where she kept her flower gardens and where she could move discreetly among the townspeople, who knew her as Madame Hepburn. “Here,” observed Tolochenaz Mayor Pierre-Alain Mercier, “she is just another neighbor.” She had said of her beloved home, “It is everything I long for.”

About 700 onlookers quietly lined the cortège route as the wind swirled and the day grew increasingly somber. Hepburn’s grave sits atop a knoll facing the Alps she so loved. Her friends gathered there as a single white tulip was placed on her coffin. Then they went home to remember the woman who, son Sean had reminded them, “believed in one thing above all. She believed in love.”

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