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Former Playboy bunny, philanthropist dies

JUPITER – A Playboy bunny turned philanthropist died at her Jupiter home last week, after contributing millions to Palm Beach County nonprofits.

Beverly Jean Crown, 67, who was described as a ravenous reader and skilled sportswoman, was afflicted with a rare lung disease.

“She was just a great lady and a great philanthropist,” recalled friend Kyle Zimmer of North Palm Beach on Monday, citing her sense of humor and love for arts and animals.

The Gary, Ind., native in her 20s was known as Bunny Beverly at the Playboy Club in Chicago, when she met entrepreneur Barry S. Crown, whose relatives had founded a building materials company.

Through a merger, the company came to own the Empire State Building in New York City. The family later held substantial investments that included Maytag Corp. and a share in the New York Yankees.

Beverly and Barry Crown, reportedly both married to others when they met, divorced their partners and married each other in 1970.

They were married for 35 years when he died this past January.

“They fell in love,” Zimmer said. “They had a lot in common. Both of them were into athletics and everything.” The couple remained “enormously close” through their marriage, he said.

Asked by talk show host Oprah Winfrey to name the best gift her husband gave her, Beverly Crown replied, “the time to educate myself.”

The Crowns enjoyed adventure travel including climbing Mount Everest, and Beverly Crown became a champion bodybuilder in her 40s and 50s. She was a skeet shooter and instrument-rated airplane pilot who helped her husband start and run several companies.

In 1990, the couple moved to South Florida where they established the LifeGuide Personal Fitness Center in Palm Beach Gardens and had a waterfront home in Jupiter’s Admiral’s Cove community.

Barry Crown was on the board of the FAU Honors College, Zimmer said.

They supported the Norton Museum of Art, the Kravis Center, Children’s Home Society, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and local chapters of the American Cancer Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, American Red Cross and American Lung Association.

They underwrote and helped found the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League’s fund-raising “Walk for the Animals.” In addition to underwriting the International Red Cross Ball, they contributed toward relief efforts following the Asian tsunami and hurricanes Frances, Jeanne, Katrina and Wilma.

“They were definitely very loyal to their causes,” said Ryan Cairns, financial development director for the local Red Cross chapter. “Their giving was very, very generous.”

Beverly Crown suffered from Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). The lung disease, found almost exclusively in women, is marked by an invasive muscle cell that over time blocks air, blood and lymph vessels and stops the lungs from supplying oxygen.

“Our mother lived every day to its fullest,” her children Debra, Tawne and Lance Day of Palm Beach Gardens said in a prepared statement. “Even in these last few days of her battle with . . . (the disease) . . . she made every second count and gave it her best.

“That is one of the greatest things she leaves behind – everything matters.”

Survivors include Debra, Tawne and Lance; step-children Bruce of Chicago, Laurie of Aspen, Colo., Donna of Denver, Colo., and Bradley of Colorado Springs; six grandchildren; one great grandchild; and her first husband, James Day of LaPlata, Md.

Private services were held in North Palm Beach.

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