Arlene Carey Travis, who helped breathe new life into Long Island’s storied Gold Coast mansions by showcasing them through a design enterprise that helped fund charities, died Monday after a long illness.
The former resident of Manhasset and Great Neck was 85.
Travis and longtime friend Carole Aronson started Mansions & Millionaires in 1974 as a way to rehabilitate Gold Coast mansions primarily on Long Island’s North Shore by hosting designer showcases in them.
The pair persuaded top designers and artists to rehabilitate and decorate rooms within the mansions, and charged visitors $20 to $35 to see the work. Thousands came to the more than 50 events they held for more than 41 years, until their last showcase in 2015.
“We had fun, we enjoyed it because we did so many different things,” said Aronson. “We were working in mansions, what better place to work in?”
When a show ended, the repaired walls, electrical systems and plumbing would remain, giving new life to mansions such as Oheka Castle, Poplar Hill, Mill Neck Manor, Whispering Pines and Sands Point Preserve, said Travis’ son, Steven Travis of Atlanta.
“She was all about saving the homes as well as bringing design to the public,” he said.
Proceeds from the events went to such causes as the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, the Science Museum of Long Island and the Family Service Association, among others, said Aronson, who called her longtime friend “fabulous.”
“Arlene was one of the most creative people you’ve ever met,” Aronson said. “She was an idea person, and an artist. She did wonderful black-and-white sketches. They are beautiful. She was fun, she was smart and very opinionated.”
The former Arlene Carey grew up in Malden, Massachusetts, and attended Framingham State University, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in education. She taught art in an elementary school and, during the Korean War, began a correspondence with a soldier though a pen pal program.
When the war ended, that soldier, Larry Travis, looked her up, eventually visiting her every week from his home in Brooklyn before the couple married. They were together for 62 years.
The Travises raised two sons in Great Neck, Steven and Peter, a science teacher from Port Washington. Through her life, Arlene Carey Travis kept her hand in the art world, sketching and painting, including during her last days in North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.
In addition to her husband and sons, Travis is survived by a sister, Sheila Teig of Stamford, Connecticut; two brothers, William Carey of Osterville, Massachusetts, and Berton Carey of Lynnfield, Massachusetts; and four grandchildren. She was predeceased by another brother, Richard Carey.
A memorial service was held at Riverside-Nassau North Chapel, Great Neck, Thursday.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to either Alzheimer’s research or Hospice Care Network.