LEXINGTON -- Anita Madden, a Lexington socialite, horsewoman and charity fundraiser famous for throwing extravagant Kentucky Derby Eve parties at her family's Hamburg Place Farm, has died at 85.
Madden died at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Willows Health Center in Hamburg, surrounded by family and friends, a week after being discharged from a brief stay at Baptist Hospital Lexington, said Ruth Ann Childers, a hospital spokeswoman who was speaking as a family friend. No cause of death was given, but Madden had been in declining health for several years.
"Authentic, special, and unique in every way, she was intellectually curious and yet she had the common touch," Mayor Jim Gray said on Twitter. "She infused Lexington with a sense of imagination, she celebrated the unusual and she welcomed everyone regardless of their station in life. Her life inspired us. Her spirit is irreplaceable."
For nearly 40 years, Madden threw elegant and sometimes decadent parties before the Derby which raised millions for charity. As many as 2,500 people attended these extravaganzas, including governors, corporate CEOs, Thoroughbred industry people, and celebrities such as Chuck Norris, Burt Bacharach, Molly Shannon and Dennis Cole. The last party was in 1998.
Madden would always make a grand entrance wearing an elaborate and revealing dress, sometimes adorned with sequins and jewels, her long, blond hair in cascading curls. Her jaw-dropping costumes were collected last year for an exhibit at ArtsPlace.
Madden was one of the first women appointed to the Kentucky Racing Commission, 1980-1983, and served 17 years on Lexington's Planning Commission, beginning in 1977. She raised millions for AIDS patients, heart disease research and local groups including the Bluegrass Boys' Ranch Scholarship Program and Just Fund Kentucky. The three-state Ohio River Valley Women's Business Council honored Madden in 2012 with its first Woman of the Year Trailblazer Award.
Hamburg Place, which originally had about 2,000 acres, was founded in 1898 by horseman John Madden. The farm produced five Kentucky Derby and five Preakness Stakes winners, as well as the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton. Preston and Anita Madden bred one of the most famous: Alysheba, who won the 1987 Derby and Preakness.
Over the past 25 years, Madden's son, Patrick Madden, has developed much of the farm as Hamburg Pavilion, a shopping complex now at the center of one of Lexington's biggest suburban developments.
Anita Madden, a native of Ashland, is survived by her husband of 63 years, Preston Madden, their son, Patrick, and his wife, Jennifer; grandchildren, Caroline and Michael Madden; and a brother, Marc Stuart, who with his band, Dash Riprock and the Dragons, played many of her Derby parties.
Milward Funeral Directors on Broadway is in charge of arrangements.