BR hostess was colorful character well known for her parties
May Cross John Baynard was a well-known Baton Rouge hostess. A philanthropist. A community volunteer. And one of the Capital City’s most colorful characters.
During her lifetime — she died earlier this year at age 92 — Baynard amassed a collection of fine porcelain, ironstone and antiques from her many travels to Europe and across the United States with her husband, the late William Tate Baynard, a businessman and investor.
Now we can all get a glimpse into the life of this woman-about-town when a collection of her antiques goes on the block July 26-28 at the New Orleans Auction Galleries.
“She loved to shop,” says a laughing May Bolling Cross Holloway, Baynard’s cousin. “I remember when she told me, ‘Amy Slowey and I are going to Paris in memory of our husband’s deaths.’ While they were there, they almost got locked up in a store overnight.”
Baynard, says lifelong friend Nita Kidd Harris, was known for her parties.
“They were very elegant,” she recalls. “She entertained exquisitely and enjoyed it so much. She and Hazel (LeBlanc) had gone to the (LSU) School of Home Economics and learned everything they could about taking care of a home.”
For her evening parties, Baynard served on her extensive set of Rose Medallion china, many pieces of which are in the auction.
“She collected it for years,” Harris said. “She ate off it. She used it. Her table was always beautiful with the china and pink flowers.”
H. Parrott “Pat” Bacot, former director of the LSU Museum of Art, recalls seeing the china on an iron stand in Baynard’s living room. “And glorious flower arrangements in silver swans. She did that extra thing. She was a very interesting person and lively.”
Bacot’s wife, Barbara SoRelle Bacot, said Baynard’s dinner parties, where everyone stood, were as large as 80 or so people.
“I remember a party with a Rose Medallion punch bowl filled with paella with hot and spicy sardines as the seafood,” she said.
Her china, however, wasn’t all that was put to everyday use.
On a visit to Baynard’s home, Pat Bacot found a rare New Orleans silver beaker being used as a toothbrush holder. Baynard, always a big supporter of the museum, gave it to him for the collection.
“She had lots of French Provincial furniture,” he said, “and a real interest in Chinese cloisonné.”
Cary Saurage, who grew up just a block away from the elegant hostess, said, “She was glamorous, always beautifully dressed, but somewhat cutting edge.”
He once saw her at a horse show in a coat made completely of feathers.
“All you saw were her head, hands and lower legs,” he recalled with a laugh.
Saurage, a classmate at the LSU Laboratory School with Baynard’s son, Tait, loved riding in her Cadillac convertible and in her husband’s Thunderbird convertible.
“Her friends said when she drove around in the Thunderbird with her dark, curly hair blowing, she looked just like Elizabeth Taylor,” Pat Bacot said.
Pam Vinci, curator of the LSU Textile & Costume Museum, said Baynard was one of the museum’s first supporters.
“May shared her interest in great design with the museum, donating treasures that ranged from a 1971 Coco Chanel suit from the designer’s last collection before her death to a dress from legendary American designer James Galanos,” Vinci said, noting an image of the Galanos dress is the museum’s logo.
Baynard was instrumental in organizing the museum’s support group, Friends of the LSU Textile & Costume Museum, in 1992 and hosted the museum’s first gala in 1995.
“She went with me to New Orleans for an auction in the late 1990s,” Vinci said. “She bought a number of Yves St. Laurent garments from the 1970s and ’80s for the museum’s collections.”
Baynard was a lifelong resident of Baton Rouge. Her mother, Cornelia Cross John, was a member of a prominent Louisiana family. Her father, Alfred Scott John, a native of Beaumont, Texas, was a civil engineer with a law degree from the University of Texas.
He was associated with the discovery and development of the Spindletop oil field in Texas around the turn of the last century. Alfred John moved to Baton Rouge in 1915 to work for the Standard Oil Co.
In 1973, Baynard and her sister, Elizabeth John Holladay, donated his collection of rare books to the LSU Libraries.