- Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
The late Jeanette Nassour, who owned the Cadeau gift shop on the Drag with her husband, Ferris Nassour, left more than $4 million in her will to arts, faith and education groups, almost all in Austin.
The biggest beneficiary was Austin Opera, which received almost $1.7 million, according to Cindy Stone, her close friend and executor.
“Jeanette taught me never to stop learning, to seek beauty and appreciate it and share it, and to never settle for anything less than the best that could be found,” Stone said. “When she couldn’t find ‘the best’ in Austin, she was determined to bring it here and help make a home for it, whether it was their store, a local museum or a performance venue.”
Recently, Austin Opera also received a $1 million gift from Ernest and Sarah Butler to support the position of artistic director, and it picked up an Opera America Innovation Grant of $122,000.
“This profound act of generosity reflects the great joy Austin Opera has brought to the community over the past 30 years,” General Manager Annie Burridge said about the Nassour gift. “And it will enable us to expand our programming and presence over the next few seasons to engage with Austinites in entirely new ways.”
Nassour left $550,000 to the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
“Jeanette and Ferris believed in the Long Center from the very start,” said Cory Baker, director and CEO of the center. “Deeply passionate about opera, she not only wanted to secure a home for Austin Opera, but also to create something iconic for the community.”
Other Austin groups receiving gifts of approximately $278,000 each were the Blanton Museum of Art, the Contemporary Austin, Texas Performing Arts, St. Austin Catholic Church and St. Edward’s University. She left a total of $300,000 to the University of Texas for fellowships in the department of art and art history.
One non-Austin gift went to the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y., where she studied and taught business.
A native of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and an only child, Nassour moved with her parents to Austin in 1950 to prepare for her marriage in 1951 to Ferris Nassour. The couple opened the carefully curated Cadeau in 1952. A second location was added in the Central Park shopping center in 1994.
She closed both stores in 2006 after her husband died. They had no children.
Nassour met regularly with a group self-dubbed the Girlfriends to enjoy the beauties and pleasures of life. One of those close friends was Angie Bonnici, director of individual giving for Austin Opera.
“Jeanette’s appreciation for all things beautiful and elegant made her store, the Cadeau, one of Austin’s premier shopping experiences,” Bonnici said. “It also made the events she co-chaired for Austin Opera over the years with her dear friend Ellen King some of the best parties in town. She was the consummate hostess and a great mentor.”