William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, owner of The Biltmore Company, died on Tuesday at his home in Asheville. He was 89 years old.
A private funeral for family, friends and close associates will be held on Friday, November 3 at 11 a.m. at All Souls Cathedral in Biltmore Village, followed by a private family burial. A reception will follow at 2 to 5 p.m. at Deerpark on Biltmore Estate.
“My father’s legacy is immeasurable for our family,” said Bill Cecil, Jr., Mr. Cecil’s son and president & CEO of The Biltmore Company. “He will always be remembered for his leadership, vision and dedication to Biltmore. He had the foresight to do what everyone thought was impossible. He spent many years in devotion to the preservation of Biltmore, determined to make the estate self-supporting by developing its appeal for tourism.”
After graduating from Harvard, Mr. Cecil had a successful career in finance in New York and Washington, D.C. with Chase Manhattan Bank. In 1960, he returned to Asheville in hopes of preserving his childhood home. Biltmore is the private estate of the late George Washington Vanderbilt III, Mr. Cecil’s grandfather.
In 1963, his dedication to the cause was rewarded when Biltmore was designated a National Historic Landmark.
“Biltmore was always very close to his heart,” said Dini Pickering, Mr. Cecil’s daughter and president of the Family Office & vice chair of the Board of Directors. “He dedicated his life to ensuring that Biltmore would continue to be a treasure for future generations. He was very proud of his family and to see them carrying out his legacy gave him great joy.”
Mr. Cecil retired from the daily management of the company in 1995. But until his death, he served as chairman on the Board of Directors of The Biltmore Company.
He was a passionate advocate for North Carolina business and tourism. Career highlights include serving as the president of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Southern Highlands Attractions Association. He was also president of the North Carolina Travel Council, and was awarded the Charles J. Parker Travel Award in 1974. He was included in “The North Carolina Century, Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000,” a book profiling people who helped shape life in North Carolina in the 20th century.
In addition, Mr. Cecil served on the board of directors of the Public Service Natural Gas Company, Carolina Motor Club, and the board of the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry.
Mr. Cecil is survived by his wife, Mary “Mimi” Ryan Cecil; his son, William A.V. “Bill” Cecil, Jr., and daughter-in- law Virginia “Ginger” Cecil; his daughter, Diana “Dini” Cecil Pickering, son-in- law George “Chuck” Pickering and brother George H. V. Cecil; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the “Building Preservation Fund” at All Souls Cathedral, 9 Swan Street, Asheville, NC 28803.
Groce Funeral Home at Lake Julian is assisting the family and the memorial register is available at grocefuneralhome.com.