The Plot of a Great Novel - Gilded Lily: Lily Safra: The Making of One of the World's Wealthiest Widows - Isabel Vincent

Gilded Lily: Lily Safra: The Making of One of the World's Wealthiest Widows - Isabel Vincent (2010)

Introduction. “The Plot of a Great Novel”

THE DRAMA THAT would lead to the death of Edmond Safra began at 4:49 a.m. on Friday, December 3, 1999. That was when Patrick Picquenot, the night watchman at the Belle Epoque, first noticed the noise of the service elevator as it lumbered down from the fifth-floor back entrance to the banker’s sumptuous duplex penthouse with its panoramic views of Monte Carlo. Moments later, the doors opened to reveal a man Picquenot had never seen before.

Perhaps he was a new member of Monsieur’s staff?

It never occurred to the night watchman that the man might be an intruder because everyone who worked in the beaux-arts building on the avenue d’Ostende knew that Safra, one of the world’s wealthiest bankers, was obsessed with security and had installed state-of-the-art alarm systems and steel doors and shutters in his residence above the Monaco branch of his Republic National Bank of New York, which was housed on the first floor of the Belle Epoque. The building also housed branches of Banque Paribas and Banque du Gothard. For all intents and purposes, the Safras’ 10,000-square-foot penthouse, which contained two separate wings, was a bunker, impossible to penetrate.

The Safras also employed almost a dozen Mossad-trained security guards. Edmond himself suffered from a debilitating case of Parkinson’s disease and was constantly attended by a team of well-trained nurses. And even though he lived part of the year in Monaco—one of the safest places on earth, where there are myriad surveillance cameras monitoring the streets, one policeman for every 100 of its 30,000 residents, and two hundred identity checks carried out by the authorities every day—Edmond refused to dispense with his extremely loyal security detail. But on that early Friday morning in December, not one of the members of his security staff was on duty at the apartment. They were all in Villefranche-sur-Mer, at the Safras’ palatial summer home, which was a twenty-minute drive from Monaco.

Still, things were typically so quiet in Monaco that a lesser professional than Picquenot, a small, wiry man who was not armed, could probably be excused for nodding off on the job from time to time. In fact, Picquenot, who hailed from the sleepy town of Menton on the Italian border, was hard-pressed to remember a time when he had had to respond to any kind of robbery or break-in. He wasn’t alone. A policeman who had spent twenty-two years on the Monaco force later confessed in court that he had never seen a gunshot wound. The only violence that he had witnessed, he said, involved an antiques dealer who attacked someone with a broken champagne bottle. Crime was rare in this luxe principality, known for its lavish casinos, Formula One racing, and generous tax breaks for its citizens, who are among the world’s wealthiest people.

The truth is that Picquenot, at thirty-eight, had little experience when it came to dealing with any kind of violent emergency, which was why he was momentarily dazed when he saw the man—tall and lanky with dirty blond hair and a strange gleam in his piercing blue eyes. He hobbled out of the elevator doubled over in pain, his hands stained copper. He was shouting something in English, a language that Picquenot could barely understand. The man was clutching his stomach and limping, and blood, which appeared to be dripping from his stomach or his leg or both, was pooling on the Italian marble floor.

But Picquenot needed little translation to understand that something was terribly wrong at the Safra apartment. At first, he thought that the man had been shot, although he could not remember hearing anything resembling a gunshot in the moments before he appeared in the lobby. “I called the police,” recalled Picquenot. “A little later, a fire alarm went off on the west side. I called the fire brigade. Very rapidly, the police and fire services arrived.” But his recollection proved incorrect. There was no fire alarm until much later, a situation that was partly to blame for the chaos of that early winter morning in Monaco.

A few police officers reached the Belle Epoque at 5:12 a.m. and immediately began questioning the bleeding man, who Picquenot quickly found out was Ted Maher, an American and one of Edmond’s nurses. Maher told the police officers that he had been the victim of two hooded intruders who had entered through an open window in Safra’s penthouse. Before an ambulance arrived to take him to Princess Grace Hospital, the wild-eyed Maher, a former Green Beret with a sterling reputation as a neonatal nurse in New York, told police that the intruders were likely armed, and that Safra and another nurse, who huddled with the billionaire in his bunker-like bathroom, were in terrible danger. Maher was wincing in pain and bleeding profusely, and no one doubted his version of events. Not yet.

It was Maher’s statements to police that would further contribute to the chaos of the next three hours and result in the horrible deaths of the sixty-seven-year-old billionaire banker and his night nurse Vivian Torrente, fifty-two. Perhaps, like Picquenot, police and firefighters in Monaco simply didn’t have the experience of dealing with an emergency of this scale, so they took their time analyzing the situation, making sure that it was safe to send their own men to Safra’s apartment to save the financier and put out the blaze that an hour later was still raging in Safra’s bedroom.

They were careful to the point of stunning ineptitude, for when Safra’s own chief of security showed up to help with the rescue operation, a police officer promptly arrested him and told him to get out of the way, even as he offered up the keys that would open the steel doors in the Safra apartment.

As the sun rose over Monaco, billows of black smoke began escaping through the roof of the Belle Epoque. Edmond and his nurse made frantic calls to police and family from the cell phone Maher had given to Torrente before he fled the apartment to alert authorities. Beginning at 5:00 a.m., Torrente would make six anguished phone calls to her boss, head nurse Sonia Casiano Herkrath, begging her to call police. Later, in her statements to police, Herkrath said she advised Torrente to place rolled-up wet towels around the room. Torrente told her that the bathroom was filling with black smoke, and that Safra stubbornly insisted they remain until he was certain that the police had apprehended the hooded intruders. Safra, a legendary banker to whom the world’s wealthiest had entrusted their funds, had provided evidence for an FBI investigation into Russian money-laundering a year earlier. Since then, he had redoubled his security because he feared for his life.

“Enemies?” said his friend Marcelo Steinfeld. “Of course, Edmond had enemies. You don’t get to make that much money and not have any enemies.”

Perhaps this explained why Safra huddled with his nurse in the bathroom, shaking uncontrollably in his yellow pajamas. He must have been terrified that these unnamed enemies, these shadowy “intruders,” had come to exact their revenge.

“Telephone calls between third parties and the occupants of the apartment, which was filled with smoke from the fire, apparently did not convince the occupants to let the firefighters in,” wrote the medical examiner who was assigned to carry out the autopsies hours later.

Edmond’s first two calls were to his beloved wife, Lily, urging her to leave her apartment, which was across the hall on the sixth floor, and to get help immediately. Lily made a daring escape through her bedroom window onto a balcony, and in a flowing nightgown with a navy school blazer that belonged to one of her grandsons draped over her thin shoulders, she appeared dazed and confused as she gingerly made her way down several flights of stairs to the lobby.

If Picquenot and the dozens of police officers who had by now assembled in the palatial lobby of the Belle Epoque noticed the rather frail and frightened banker’s wife shivering in the ill-fitting blazer, few took any notice.

That would come later, after the funeral, and after the sale of her husband’s bank to the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) made the front pages of the world’s financial papers. Of course, the chatter among the aristocrats and the socialites who moved in the Safras’ rarefied circles began soon after the media trucks pulled up outside the Belle Epoque to film the blaze and report live from Monaco on the bizarre series of events that would leave one of the world’s richest bankers asphyxiated in his own home. By 6:15 a.m., many could clearly see the blaze from their own stately apartments along the avenue d’Ostende and avenue John F. Kennedy. A torrent of intercontinental phone calls began.

“As soon as I turned on the television and saw that the penthouse was on fire, the phone rang,” said one longtime resident of Monaco who could also see the Safras’ burning penthouse from her own apartment. “The phone kept ringing with people calling me from London, New York, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro. Everyone wanted to know the same thing: ‘Where is Lily?’”

Lily, one of the world’s richest and most elegant women, was used to the chatter about herself. In many ways she courted it, propelling the media-shy Safra into society columns on three continents. Safra was her fourth husband, and her greatest catch, but he was less than enthusiastic about what seemed to be Lily’s need to court publicity and appear at all the best parties.

“I saw their relationship as very unique,” said Eli Attia, who had worked as Safra’s architect for nearly fifteen years, beginning in 1978. “She gave him a new angle on life. He was very shy and not comfortable in his dealings with people. They were very complementary to each other and you can’t escape [the fact] that it was a great love story.”

Safra, balding and stocky, with thick black eyebrows and sad eyes, moved slowly and deliberately. With his courtly Old World manner, he was in many ways the stereotype of the dark-suited prosperous banker, singularly devoted to his clients around the world. Lily once likened going to bed with him to attending a board meeting because “he would telephone his far-flung business associates all night.” Still, Safra was clearly in love with Lily, “a slim blonde charmer,” who was forty-two when they married in 1976. What she lacked in beauty in her later years, Lily made up for in elegance, sophistication, and extremely good taste. Safra, forty-four when he married her, was a legend in the banking community who was known for his sober discretion. The motto of his Republic National Bank in New York was “to protect not only your assets, but your privacy.”

“No other major banker since the era of the Morgans and Rockefellers has been so successful as an entrepreneur,” said BusinessWeek in a rare profile of Edmond Safra.

But the mighty banker allowed Lily to have her way—most of the time. Following their marriage, the couple regularly dined with such luminaries as Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino, and Nancy Reagan, and befriended Women’s Wear Daily society columnist Aileen Mehle. One of the earliest mentions of Lily’s entrée into Manhattan high society occurred in March 1981 at a dinner in the Safras’ honor chez the Brazilian ambassador to the United Nations attended by Diana Vreeland, Bill Blass, the Safras’ friends Ahmet and Mica Ertegun, and Nancy Reagan’s “walker” and Manhattan society fixture Jerry Zipkin. “Lily answered a toast from her host with a sweet little speech, using one of the Plexiglas lorgnettes that Jerry Zipkin gives friends who are farsighted or nearing 40.” Lily was a few months shy of her forty-seventh birthday.

Later, Edmond and Lily attended the same benefits and luncheons as Elton John, Blaine and Robert Trump, and the Monegasque royals. Mehle wrote that Lily and her friend Lynn Wyatt, the Texas billionairess, were among a large entourage “tagging along” with Prince Albert of Monaco during his visit to New York in 1997.

Lily became such a luminary in haute circles in New York that her name became a boldface fixture alongside more established high-society icons. At a luncheon in New York in 1994, Lily must have been thrilled to be mentioned alongside Brooke Astor, the doyenne of the New York social world for decades and a paragon of East Coast old money. At the luncheon, Brooke Astor “wore her sable hat, and Lily Safra wore her velvet one.”

The Safras had “exquisite taste” and were considered important collectors. After Edmond’s death, Lily sold their collection of eighteenth-century European furniture and decorative objects at a Sotheby’s auction—a two-day event in New York that raised a staggering $50 million, double the pre-auction estimate.

But the superlatives were saved for the Safras’ magnificent homes around the world. A house Lily bought in London after Edmond’s death was “perhaps the most beautiful home in all of London with a swimming pool on the ground floor, surrounded by what looks like the Garden of Eden.”

The jewel in the crown was surely their home in the south of France—a place Women’s Wear Daily described as “one of the most wonderful private houses on the Cote d’Azur, maybe in the world.” Lily and Edmond threw fabled balls and “intimate dinners” at La Leopolda, the sprawling seaside villa, named for the estate’s first owner, King Leopold II of Belgium. Invitations to the villa, which was surrounded by orange groves and stately cypresses, were the most sought-after among members of high society during the summer social season on the Riviera.

When Women’s Wear Daily featured one of her most sumptuous balls at La Leopolda in August 1988—a vernissage of sorts after lavish renovations—the magazine referred to her as “The Gilded Lily” in the headline.

By the time Edmond died, Lily was well on her way to establishing her high-society bona fides. But even before she married Edmond, Lily had already honed her reputation as an elegant hostess. In South America, where she was only a minor fixture on the social circuit, first as the wife of a hosiery factory owner in Argentina and Uruguay, and then as the wife of one of Brazil’s wealthiest men, friends remembered her for her acts of generosity and her sumptuous parties.

“Lily was an extremely generous woman, a great hostess, with elegant manners,” recalled Vera Contrucci Pinto Dias, who socialized with her in Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s. “She wasn’t Princess Diana, but she was pretty close.”

In October 2008, Lily’s longtime friend Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, Rita Hayworth’s daughter, honored her with an award for her work on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association. In her speech at the gala dinner at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel, the princess pronounced Lily “an extraordinary woman—someone I admire and am honored to have been friends with for nearly three decades. She has inspired many and because of her actions the world is a better place and the future is ever brightening.” Lily herself donated a pair of ruby-and-diamond ear clips by JAR for the event’s silent auction. The earrings were valued at $180,000—by far the most expensive lot at the auction.

But hand in hand with generosity went sheer extravagance. This was a woman who thought nothing of sending a favorite hairdresser on a transcontinental flight from Rio de Janeiro to Geneva to do her hair for an event. In 1989 she hired a commercial jet to ferry her friends from New York to Rio for her eldest son’s wedding, and renovated a floor of the city’s elegant Hotel Meridien for the comfort of her out-of-town guests. The decorating bill for her bedroom (not including furnishings) at her summer home in the south of France was over $2 million. A recent public records search in Manhattan revealed that she has several vehicles registered in her name at one of her Fifth Avenue addresses, including a Bentley Brooklands Sedan and a rare BMW 750IL. One year, at Christmas, she sent out dozens of pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes to friends.

But her most important characteristic—the one that has propelled her astonishing ascent in social circles around the world—is a steely determination.

“I think that since childhood her dreams had always been to marry into the British nobility or, second best, to marry a billionaire (which she did), but on the world stage, with Class and Pedigree,” said Samuel Bendahan, her third husband. “I remember how truly annoyed she still was, months or years after the event, when she related to me that she was to have gone to some lavish function with J. Paul Getty, but that he had had to cancel and she never heard from him again.”

Of course, money was always important to her, said Bendahan, “but nothing like being very rich and being, say, the Duchess of Marlborough or faute de mieux Mrs. J. Paul Getty.”

Indeed, from an early age Lily knew what she wanted: wealth, power, and prestige. “Every girl dreams of her Prince Charming,” said Ana Bentes Bloch, who knew Lily in high school in Rio de Janeiro. “Lily was no different. She was such a beautiful girl that you really couldn’t deny her anything.”

Others remember her differently. “She was a social alpinist,” said one acquaintance from the 1950s. “Her parents prepared her from a very early age to marry a rich man.”

Although she may not have always known exactly how to get the things that were most important to her, she knew instinctively how to take advantage of those around her who did. She has surrounded herself with an extremely loyal group of lawyers, financiers, and public relations advisers whom she rewards handsomely. But while they manage her financial and legal affairs on three continents, it is Madame who is clearly in charge.

On her own, Lily didn’t achieve the wild success in business and finance that distinguished two of her four husbands. But like them she is largely self-made—a middle-class arriviste from the far-flung reaches of South America who built her own impressive empire in elite society. She is a skilled and much admired hostess and an important philanthropist in her own right. She is also a canny survivor, a street-smart society princess who knew how to use her relationships with men to get ahead.

“She didn’t exactly lie around the house all day eating chocolates,” recalled one of her acquaintances from the 1960s. “In many ways, I am completely repelled by her, but I also admire her greatly. She knows exactly how to take advantage of a situation.”

And she lets nothing and nobody stand in her way. Her vindictiveness can be swift and precise. She has been known to change the seating of guests at her elaborate dinner parties when one of them has made the slightest faux pas. A guest could easily be removed from the place of honor at her table and be relegated to the outer reaches of the “children’s table” if he had done something to offend Lily.

She hates Safra’s brothers in São Paulo, who have never accepted her—someone they view as a lapsed Ashkenazi Jew with a past. Although they were very close to Edmond, for years they resisted allowing Lily into their tight-knit Sephardic clan. But in the end she got her revenge. According to the Safra family, in the final months of Safra’s life, Lily convinced Safra to distance himself from his siblings even though he had pledged to honor a long-standing Safra family tradition to turn over his banks for them to run. Edmond, who had no children of his own, had made the decision long ago that his younger brothers would take care of his banks when he was gone.

Few details have emerged about her personal life, largely because most of her former employees are forced to sign strict confidentiality agreements. Ted Maher’s agreement, which is dated August 16, 1999, reads in part: “You agree that during any period of the retention of your services and thereafter you will not disclose or cause or permit to be disclosed any confidential or non-public information…relating in any way to Mr. or Mrs. Edmond Safra, any member of their family, or any company owned or controlled by them or any member of their family…” The agreement goes on to say that “a breach of this confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement” will result in “immediate termination” and “the Safras shall have all additional rights and remedies available at law or in equity in the event of such breach.” Many former employees reacted with silence when approached for interviews for this book; others passed on their regrets through their attorneys. Others agreed to speak only under the strictest confidentiality.

Many were afraid of potential lawsuits, and described Lily and her elite group of aides as ruthless when it came to protecting her reputation—the carefully edited biography that stresses only her generous philanthropy and her relationship to one of the century’s greatest bankers. In many ways, she has decorated her own life’s story in the same way that she has decorated her sumptuous residences around the world.

“Lily Safra litigates with a bottomless pit,” said Lady Colin Campbell, a best-selling author and biographer of Diana, Princess of Wales. In 2005 Lily threatened to sue Lady Colin over her novel, Empress Bianca, which she felt was a thinly veiled roman a clef about her life.

“She’s a narcissist who hungers for attention,” said Lady Colin, who turned the tables on Lily and sued her for lost revenues when Lily’s lawyers managed to pressure her publisher to remove Empress Bianca from stores in England and destroy any copies remaining in their warehouse. The lawsuit ended in “a Mexican standoff,” said Lady Colin.

Still, Lily has attracted an extremely loyal following among her friends, although she has also managed to strike deep fear in the hearts of those who have fallen out of favor with her. Indeed, some of her friends not only refused repeated interview requests during the research of this book, they claimed they had never met her. “I didn’t know her at all,” said Carmen Sirotsky, a friend from Rio de Janeiro, who is listed as a witness at her wedding to Alfredo Monteverde in 1966—the second of the three times that they officially registered their marriage. On a trip to Rio de Janeiro in 1972, Lily introduced Carmen Sirotsky to Samuel Bendahan as “my best friend from Rio.”

For all the column inches devoted to descriptions of her exquisite clothes, fabled parties, and philanthropy, little is actually known about Lily Safra. Strangely, more is known about her husband, who made it his life’s mission to stay out of the media spotlight. Safra almost never gave interviews, largely because his business was built on utter discretion and loyalty to his ultrarich clientele, most of them Sephardic Jews and Arabs who had entrusted their money to generations of Safra bankers in the Middle East.

“He was one of the smartest people I had ever met,” recalled Attia, who designed Safra residences around the world as well as the modern addition to the Republic National Bank of New York on Fifth Avenue. Attia met Safra at his offices in Geneva in 1978. During an epic meeting that lasted twelve hours and saw Edmond’s dark-suited aides rushing into his office with breaking financial news on bits of white paper, Safra took dozens of calls from around the world as panic began to hit global markets, presaging one of history’s worst recessions two years later.

“Milton Friedman called him on the phone to ask his advice,” recalled Attia, referring to the Nobel laureate and leader of the Chicago School of economists. “It was amazing. It seemed like he was at the center of the world.”

Safra unwittingly stepped back onto center stage as dawn broke over Monaco on December 3, 1999. As the fire raged inside the beaux-arts penthouse, the Safras found themselves thrust into an increasingly harsh media spotlight. Overnight, Lily went from being a glamorous hostess and a boldface name in the society columns to front-page international news. But the instant fame came with a price. It invited intense scrutiny—the kind of publicity that she could surely do without.

Marc Bonnant, Lily’s longtime lawyer, asked her point-blank on the witness stand at Ted Maher’s trial in Monaco in 2002, “What do you think about people saying you were the cause of the tragedy?”

“It is awful,” replied Lily, impeccably dressed in a black business suit, her blonde hair cut stylishly short, her demeanor stoic. “I adored my husband. We were so united. Everyone around us knew that. We lived for each other.”

Following several days of testimony from fifty-eight witnesses, Maher was convicted of starting the fire that led to the two deaths and later sentenced to ten years in prison.

In a public statement after Maher’s conviction in December 2002, Lily’s public relations team rushed out a press release that attempted to put the terrible events behind her, “Let us thank God for this moment when justice has been done: the guilty man has been punished and the full facts of that dreadful night exactly three years ago, which claimed the lives of my dear husband and his devoted nurse, have been laid bare for all to see.”

But years after the end of the trial “the full facts” still remain elusive. Maher’s defense team recently called for a full investigation after the French press reported that the trial may have been fixed and that legal authorities had met beforehand to work out Maher’s conviction and sentencing.

In itself, Maher’s trial raised more troubling questions than it answered: Why had the police and firefighters acted with such incompetence? Why had the servants and bodyguards been given the night off? Why did none of the servants have keys to the apartment? Why had Safra decided to sell his bank a month before his death? Who had made the decision to hire Maher? Why did Monaco authorities refuse to conduct a thorough investigation of the events leading up to Safra’s death? Did Maher act alone?

As the São Paulo branch of Safra’s family noted in their own competing and rather cryptic press statement following the verdict: “Those who were there at the scene on that fateful morning each know what they did and did not do. They must now live the rest of their lives with that knowledge.”

The events of December 3, 1999, proved so intriguing that the legendary Vanity Fair magazine columnist Dominick Dunne noted six years later, “Some crime stories simply refuse to die, even after a trial and a guilty verdict.”

But perhaps it was Ted Maher himself who would put it best: “This story is all about money, power, and corruption.”

Just after six a.m. on that fateful Friday morning, Safra’s night nurse Vivian Torrente made what would be her final call to her boss Sonia Casiano Herkrath. By then the bathroom was filled with inky black smoke. Herkrath would recall that Torrente’s voice sounded strangely sleepy, her words garbled. Herkrath later told authorities that she knew that the nurse was on the verge of losing consciousness. She could also hear Safra coughing incessantly in the background. “I knew she was near the end,” Herkrath told Monagesque authorities. “The line went dead.”

It would take firefighters another hour and a half to put out the blaze that had already killed Safra and his night nurse. When they finally managed to gain access to the fortress-like bathroom, they found Safra seated in an armchair and Torrente slumped on the floor behind him. Their nostrils were filled with soot which was as black as the trousers that Torrente was wearing. Their skin had turned greasy gray.

Workers from the coroner’s office began to remove the bodies at 10:00 a.m. for transfer to the medical examiners’ office in Nice for the autopsies.

In the drafty lobby of the Belle Epoque, a police officer sought out Lily to break the terrible news. Leaning on her daughter, Adriana, and son-in-law, Michel Elia, who had arrived moments earlier from their apartment nearby, she made her way to the penthouse. The firefighters and police officers who had fumbled for hours in their efforts to save Edmond could now do little more than bow their heads: Desolé, madame. Nos sinceres condoléances.

A few weeks before her sixty-fifth birthday, Lily found herself a widow for the second time in her life. Like the first time, thirty years earlier, she also found herself in a uniquely privileged position. This time, the stakes were significantly higher and she would be described in the headlines that dogged her for years after Safra’s death as one of the richest widows in the world. Days after the untimely death of Edmond Safra, Lily, an heir to her husband’s immense banking fortune, received $3 billion from the sale of his bank. Coincidentally, a day before the fire, Monaco’s Prince Rainier had signed the papers making the Safra couple citizens of Monaco. Acquiring citizenship in the principality is a long and complicated affair unless you are personally invited by the Prince, as was the case with Lily and Edmond, who had wined and dined the Grimaldis for years with this specific end in sight. Citizenship ensured that the couple’s immense fortune would not be subject to any tax in the principality.

In the more fashionable capitals of Europe and in New York, there was shock and sadness at the horrible turn of events in Monaco. Initially, there was also a great deal of sympathy for Lily.

“I don’t know how she has coped with so many things that have happened in her life,” said Carlos Monteverde, Lily’s adopted son, who considered Safra “a second father.”

How would she cope?

Perhaps it was a question posed in the immediate aftermath of Safra’s death. Perhaps it occurred to the Monegasque police and firefighters as they glanced at Madame, forlorn and shivering in the lobby.

“She is really the prettiest of women,” a society columnist had noted about Lily some years earlier. “In a land of giants it’s a pleasure to see someone who looks as though she’s made of porcelain.”

But Lily Safra is made of much stronger stuff.

In Rio de Janeiro, where family friends and acquaintances could still recall Lily as an upwardly mobile young woman in the 1950s with the single-minded goal of marrying a rich man, few people had any doubts about how she would cope without Safra.

“I have always believed that Lily is a woman of great luck and fortune,” said Gastão Veiga, a family friend who had known Lily as a teenager and young adult in Rio de Janeiro. “Her life has always struck me as the plot of a great novel.”