Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News

Longtime New Orleans civic, cultural and political activist Mickey Easterling, who embodied the terms 'arts patron' and 'socialite,' always adorned in a hat and hosting and attending parties that made her a fixture on the city's social scene, died Monday.

For more than 50 years, Easterling was a quintessential New Orleans hostess. She opened her Lakefront home for countless charity fundraisers over the years and served on boards and committees for charitable and cultural causes.

She also hosted friends, artists and musicians like Paul Simon and Robert Goulet for parties at her home and organized fundraisers for political figures including former Gov. Edwin Edwards, former presidential candidate and retired General Wesley Clark, and Roger Clinton.

Friend and Times-Picayune columnist Betty Guillaud, who included Easterling in dozens of her society and gossip columns over the years, once wrote that Easterling was 'on every politician's party list.' Guillaud added that Easterling 'can outshine any star, any show, or any stone that gets in her shadow.'

With her deep, throaty voice and laugh, Easterling was a presence at any party, and knew how to make an entrance, friends said. Part of that was always the hat.

'Hats, of course, are one of the flamboyant socialite's trademarks. No matter what the season, she has always been her own Easterling parade,' wrote David Cuthbert in a 1998 Times-Picayune profile. 'I've been wearing them since I was 2,' she told him. 'I have no idea how many I have, but there are hundreds of hat boxes in my closets, with one-to-10 hats in each one.'

A 1984 Dixie Roto profile in the newspaper said Easterling 'cultivates the image of herself as a political powerhouse, a civic mover and shaker, an irrepressible party-giver and party-goer. She likes to be noticed. After all, for some people, the best part of having it is flaunting it. And the hats certainly help.'

Her Lakefront mansion was equally as famous, both for the party setting and as her home office, filled with art.

'She calls her office, which is hung with portraits of herself, 'the rogues' gallery,'' Cuthbert wrote. 'Easterling is rendered in playful, pensive and intense fashion by George Febres, Douglas Bourgeois, Jean-Jacques Giraud and Douglas Johnson. But the most striking depiction of the mistress of this Lakefront swankienda must be the nude sculpture in her poolside patio that holds aloft a glass coffee table top. 'It was done by an Italian princess and is the essential me,' she said, 'Shoes, hat, cigarette and champagne glass.''

Although she was a world traveler, Easterling was most at home in New Orleans. Among the causes and charities Easterling supported over the years were the New Orleans Museum of Art, Easter Seals, the March of Dimes, New Orleans Opera, Children's Hospital and Loyola University, where she created an endowed chair in the theater department.

Her daughter, Nanci, shared her mother's love for the social scene and turned it into her business, as owner of Food Art catering. In addition to her daughter, Easterling is survived by a son, Ed.

A funeral service will be held in her honor at what family members called one of her all-time favorite places, the Saenger Theater, on Tuesday, April 22 from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. In lieu of flowers, Easterling requested a donation to one of the many charities she supported in life, such as Easter Seals, Children's Hospital of New Orleans, or St Jude's Hospital for Children.

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