Local Obituaries

He brought a fashion school to Miami. The ‘charming’ Sir Edward Porter dies at 96

Lady Anna Lee Porter and husband Sir Edward Porter share a kiss on the patio of their North Bay Road home in December 1965.
Lady Anna Lee Porter and husband Sir Edward Porter share a kiss on the patio of their North Bay Road home in December 1965.

A knight and his real-life Auntie Mame are together again.

On March 17, Sir Edward Porter died at 96. About nine years earlier his wife, Lady Anna Lee Porter, passed.

Both derived their honorifics in 1969 from Vatican knighthoods for their contributions to education.

In 1966, the couple co-founded Miami’s International Fine Arts College at the old Miami Woman’s Club on North Bayshore Drive. After its sale in 2001, it became Miami International University of Art & Design. Before IFAC, Porter opened Massey Business College in Georgia (now the Art Institute of Atlanta) and Porter College in Indiana. He spent 54 years in education.

The couple met when she came to his Atlanta college office to inquire about classes in 1951. “She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my life,” he said for her 2007 obituary in the Miami Herald. “It was a love affair from beginning to end.”

He, the “witty, charming, gregarious and brilliant” man his daughters Starr Porter and Shannon Leeman describe; she, the outgoing woman who threw lavish parties, dropped gemstones in stemware, and had the knack to know precisely what to say to lift spirits.

Sir Edward was an elegant, wonderful man who brought style and substance to everything he did. He was smart, he was kind, he was accomplished. And he and his fabulous wife and lifetime partner, the late Lady Anna Lee, threw the absolute best parties.

Michael Putney, senior political reporter for WPLG-Local 10.

“No one impacted my life more than him,” said Nancy Samson. As Nancy Dastur, she became the International Fine Arts College’s first international student in its second year of operation when Porter gave her a scholarship and invited her to come to Miami from India.

“I had no family here. He and Anna Lee were my surrogate parents here,” said Samson, who went on to a career in fashion through the 1980s at the former Jordan Marsh on Biscayne Boulevard and Saks Fifth Avenue at Bal Harbour Shops.

“I came from a Third World country and was thrust in the lap of American luxury. You’ve no idea how important this man was in my life. He literally made my dream come true,” Samson said. She loved fashion, dreamed of a life in the States and watched American movies with her mother. She saw an ad for IFAC in Seventeen magazine and figured she had nothing to lose by sending it off. “When he got the letter he said, ‘I have an international college and no international students. I will give you a full scholarship.’ I was full of adventure and left my family and came here.”

Said Leeman, “There were only a few things he cared about deeply: my mother, his family and work. And those were his priorities. His word was his bond. My brother put it beautifully — he exemplified the values of the last century: hard work and honor and doing what you say you’ll do. Your word is your handshake.”

Starr Porter picks up her sister’s thought. “You could count on it. He was a Southern gentleman. His handshake was like a Philadelphia-drawn contract.” Come again? “In his day, the best lawyers came from Philadelphia,” she explained.

Born Aug. 17, 1920, in Chicago, Porter’s IFAC became a force in South Florida’s fashion, film and interior design industries. Fashion luminaries like Emilio Pucci, Gloria Vanderbilt and Mary McFadden were frequent guests at the couple’s North Bay Road estate.

“I was valedictory at their school and they took me under their wing,” said Lamis Olsen, a Class of 1993 graduate who worked in women’s wear. “My fondest memories are of Sir Edward and Lady Porter singing to each other across the table.”

He sang Sinatra, Nat King Cole and 20s’ standards with colleagues, too. “He was my musical partner, he would sing with me every day,” said May Couto, Porter’s assistant of seven years. “That was our routine. He was the most wonderful man I ever met.”

Porter is also survived by his son Daniel Porter and grandchildren Drew and Savannah-Grace Leeman, Mikhael and Anna Lee Porter and Nicole Saenz. A Mass will be at 4 p.m. Friday at St. Patrick’s Church, 3716 Garden Ave., Miami Beach. Donations in Porter’s name can be made to CasaValentina.org or SavingInnocence.org.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen