Lily Safra (née Watkins, formerly Cohen, formerly Monteverde, formerly Bendahan; born 30 December 1934) is a Brazilian-Monegasque billionaire, philanthropist, and socialite who attained considerable wealth through her four marriages. By March 2013, her net worth was estimated at $1.2 billion[2] according to Forbes.

Lily Safra
Lily Watkins

(1934-12-30) 30 December 1934 (age 85)
NationalityBrazilian, Monegasque
OccupationSocialite, philanthropist
Net worthUS$1.3 billion (April 2019)[1]
Mario Cohen
(m. 1952; div. 1960)

Alfredo Monteverde
(m. 1964; died 1969)

Samuel Bendahan
(m. 1972; div. 1973)

Edmond Safra
(m. 1976; died 1999)

Safra has a significant art collection and owns the historic Villa Leopolda on the French Riviera.[3] In 2018, Lily Safra ranked #1756 on the Forbes World's Billionaires list, with wealth listed at US $1.3 billion.[4]


Lily Safra was born Lily Watkins[5] on 30 December 1934 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. She is the daughter of Wolf White Watkins, a Czechoslovak railway engineer who moved to South America, and Annita Noudelman de Castro, a Uruguayan of Russian Jewish ancestry.[6]:17f She grew up in Rio de Janeiro but moved with her family to Uruguay.

At age 17, she met and married Mario Cohen, an Argentine hosiery magnate of Italian-Jewish descent.[7] They had three children. Lily and Cohen divorced in the early 1960s.

In 1965, she married Alfredo "Freddy" Monteverde,[8] formerly Greenberg.[9] He was a Romanian Jewish immigrant who fled Europe in 1939.[7] He was a leader in the Brazilian household appliance distribution business, where he established the Ponto Frio brand. He and Lily adopted a child. In 1969, Monteverde committed suicide. According to biographer Isabel Vincent, Monteverde left all his assets to his wife.[citation needed] A month after his death, Lily Monteverde moved to London. Her late husband's banker, Edmond Safra, helped her secure control over her late spouse's entire fortune.[7] She dated Safra for some time, but the romance ended. Safra's family, who is of Sephardic Jewish descent, did not approve of his relationship with Lily, who was of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.[7]

In 1972, Monteverde married businessman Samuel Bendahan, also a Sephardic Jew, and a man of more modest means.[7] They separated after two weeks, and she divorced him after one year of marriage.[7][9]

In 1976, Monteverde married Edmond Safra after all. The prominent banker was of Lebanese Jewish (Mizrahi) origin and a naturalized Brazilian citizen. He founded Republic National Bank of New York. The couple divided their time among homes in New York City, Monaco, Geneva, and the Villa Leopolda on the French Riviera.

Safra was killed in Monaco in a fire that was determined to be arson. His death attracted considerable media interest because of his wealth and position.[10] Edmond Safra "apparently felt so safe here that he did not have his bodyguards stay the night when he slept in Monaco".[11]

Ted Maher, a former Green Beret who was Safra's bodyguard and nurse, was accused of starting the fire. His lawyer, Michael Griffith, has said that Maher started the fire in order to gain acceptance from Safra and that "It was a stupid, most insane thing a human being could do. He did not intend to kill Mr. Safra. He just wanted Mr. Safra to appreciate him more. He loved Mr. Safra. This was the best job of his life."[12] Maher was convicted and sentenced to eight years in jail. The case is considered controversial; even after his eight-year imprisonment, Maher has maintained his innocence.

Safra left 50% of his assets to several charities, with the remainder divided among his family members and wife Lily, who received $800 million.[13][14]

Lady Colin Campbell's novel Empress Bianca (2005) was considered to be defamatory by Safra's solicitor Anthony Julius. Reacting to the legal threat in the United Kingdom, its publishers Arcadia withdrew the book and destroyed unsold copies.[6]:265f A revised edition of the book was later published in the United States.[6]:265f

Philanthropy and art collectionEdit

Lily Safra supports numerous foundations, organizations, and charities. In 1977 she, her husband Edmond Safra, and Nina Weiner founded the International Sephardic Education Foundation. She chairs The Edmond J. Safra Foundation [15] which supports medical research and humanitarian relief. The Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics has been established at Harvard; most recently she donated over $12 million to create a cross-disciplinary research laboratory on institutional corruption.[16]

Safra supports the American Red Cross and helped the Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005; she is on the board of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's research, and is a member of the Chairman's Council of the Museum of Modern Art.[17] Through the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, she helped found the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities at the University of Haifa.[18] The Foundation and Mrs. Safra also helped create the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences at the Hebrew University.[19]

Safra ensured the completion of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in Manhattan.[20]

In connection with the 2005 sale at Sotheby's of furniture and art from her collection, Safra donated $3 million to charities in New York which she and her husband had supported for many years, along with a gift to Dillard University in New Orleans to help them rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.[21] Sotheby's announced in 2011 that an auction of Mr. and Mrs. Safra's collections, including furniture, artwork, silverware, and decorative objects, took place in New York City.[22][23]

In 2009, Safra was honored by the Elton John AIDS Foundation with its “An Enduring Vision” award for her long-time support. In October 2013, Safra donated $1 million in support of the foundation's grant-making programs.[24] That same year, Safra contributed $16 million toward Edmond and Lily Safra Children's Hospital in Tel Hashomer. She also donated $5 million toward the One Laptop Per Child project.[25]

She established the Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge,[26] for patients battling illnesses, as well as their families, at the National Institutes of Health near Washington DC. In July 2010, she donated 8 million euros to the Institute for Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries in Paris.[27]

In the same year, she promised the Claude Pompidou Foundation a donation of 7 million euros for the construction and completion of the Claude Pompidou Institute for Alzheimer’s research and treatment in the city of Nice, France. The Institute was inaugurated and welcomed its first patients in 2014.[28]

Safra is a Patron of Hope and Homes for Children in the UK[29] and a supporter of its work for children in Romania[30]

On 3 February 2010 at an auction in London, Safra acquired L'Homme qui marche I, a life-sized bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti of a man, for £65 million (US$104.3 million). The purchase became one of the most expensive works of art and the most expensive sculpture ever purchased.[31][32]

In May 2012, Christie's Geneva hosted an auction of 70 pieces of Safra’s personal jewelry collection. The 'Jewels for Hope' sale included 18 pieces by JAR, the largest personal collection designed by the jeweler ever to be sold.[33] The entire profits from the sale were donated to 32 charitable institutions around the world in the fields of healthcare, education, religion and culture, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Hope and Homes for Children in Romania.[34]

In April 2019, Safra pledged €10 million towards the restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris after the fire.[35]



  1. ^ "#1367 Lily Safra". Forbes. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  2. ^ "Lily Safra". Forbes. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  3. ^ "The World's Most Expensive Billionaire Homes". Forbes. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  4. ^ "The World's Billionaires". Forbes. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  5. ^ "Gilded Lily faces her husband's 'killer'". The Daily Telegraph. London. 22 November 2002.
  6. ^ a b c d Vincent, Isabel (2010). Gilded Lily. Lily Safra: The Making of One of the World's Wealthiest Widows. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-113393-0.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "The billionaire's widow". 2010-07-29. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  8. ^ Dan, Uri (December 5, 1999). "Widow's life full of tragic heartbreak". The New York Post. Archived from the original on October 21, 2012. Retrieved April 12, 2008.
  9. ^ a b Dunne, Dominick (December 2000). "Death in Monaco". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on September 29, 2010.
  10. ^ "Billionaire's mysterious death in Monte Carlo". Dateline NBC. 2008-03-23. Retrieved 2015-05-28 – via NBC
  11. ^ Daley, Suzanne (7 December 1999). "Nurse Is Said to Admit Arson That Killed Banker in Monaco". The New York Times.
  12. ^ "Murder In Monaco: An American On Trial". CBS News. 8 July 2003.
  13. ^ "Dossier Finance de 7 Milliards a 100 Millions" [Finance Dossier from 7 Billion to 100 Million]. (in French). Archived from the original on July 9, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  14. ^ Churcher, Sharon; McDonough, Michael (February 27, 2000). "How Tragic Lily is Set to be Britain's Wealthiest Woman with $1bn Fortune". The Mail on Sunday. London. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  15. ^ "Edmond J. Safra Foundation - Home". 2014-12-19. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  16. ^ Kaplan, Thomas (19 October 2010). "With Gift, Harvard to Study Institutional Corruption". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "Board of Directors: Lily Safra". Archived from the original on May 6, 2008. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  18. ^ a b "Mrs Lily Safra, founding benefactor of the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities at the University of Haifa, receives an honorary doctorate". University of Haifa. 2009-06-03. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  19. ^ "Division For Advancement & External Relations". Archived from the original on 2011-10-04. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  20. ^ Harary, Jared (March 1, 2010). "Safra Synagogue, an island at the center of the world". Jewish Image Magazine.
  21. ^ Shin, Paul H.B. (15 October 2005). "3M Gifts By Widow". New York Daily News.
  22. ^ "Safra collections sale expected to raise $40 million". 20 June 2011.
  23. ^ "AUCTION RESULTS: Property from the Collections of Lily & Edmond J. Safra - Volumes I-VI". Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  24. ^ Cimarusti, Nicholas. "Philanthropist Gives $1 Million to Elton John AIDS Foundation". Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  25. ^ Sadeh, Shuki (17 March 2013). "How foreign donors reshaped Israel: A who's who". Haaretz. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  26. ^ "NIH Clinical Center: Family Lodge". National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  27. ^ "COMUNICADO: Unprecedented Donation Made by Mrs. Lily Safra to the Institute for Brain and Spinal Cord Disorders in Paris". (in Spanish). 2010-07-08. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  28. ^ "Villa Léopolda : Lily Safra fait don de 39 M€ de caution | Villefranche-sur-Mer". (in French). Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  29. ^ "Hope and Homes for Children | Who we are". Archived from the original on 2011-11-02. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  30. ^ "Ne pare rău, pagina solicitată nu există!". (in Romanian). Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  31. ^ "Giacometti sculpture fetches £65m at Sotheby's auction". BBC News. February 5, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2011.
  32. ^ Deirde Wollard (March 1, 2011). "Lily Safra Named As Byer Of World's Most Expensive Sculpture". Luxist. Retrieved June 15, 2011.
  33. ^ "Release: Jewels For Hope : The Collection Of Mrs Lily Safra". (Press release). 2012-03-29. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  34. ^ "Record breaking charity jewellery auction brings change for children in Romania". Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  35. ^ "Plus de 800 millions d'euros de dons pour la reconstruction de Notre-Dame". Les Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace (in French). Archived from the original on 16 April 2019. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  36. ^ "Lily Safra | The Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences". Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  37. ^ "HostGator Web Hosting Website Startup Guide". Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  38. ^ "The Courtauld Institute of Art : Newsletter Archive". Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  39. ^ "Independent Imperial College London awards its first degrees". Imperial College London. 9 July 2007. Archived from the original on June 16, 2011. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  40. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients". Brandeis University. Archived from the original on July 26, 2010.
  41. ^ "Technion Confers Honorary Doctorate on Madame Lily Safra". Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. December 12, 2018. Retrieved June 20, 2019.

External linksEdit