Nepali butler inherits two plush apartments in New York
JOSH BARBANEL/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
NEW YORK, May 12: Indra B. Tamang, who grew up in a mud house in a farming village in Nepal, has reached a pinnacle of society after more than three decades of loyal service as a butler, cook and caretaker to a socially prominent American family.
The cook became the master — as the inheritor of two apartments at the Dakota, the legendary West Side apartment building, and a valuable collection of Russian surrealist art — after the death last year at the age of 98 of Ruth Ford, a film and stage actress who was the wife of Zachary Scott, a dashing Hollywood star.
At a time when many Americans are puzzling over how an immigrant from Pakistan could turn on his adopted country and plant a bomb in Times Square, the rare fortune of Tamang, a new American citizen, shows another side of immigrant life: how many years of painstaking dedication is sometimes richly rewarded.
In her will, accepted for probate last month in Surrogate´s Court in Manhattan, Ford turned over her entire estate including the apartments and an art collection, with the exception of her clothing and costume jewelry, to Tamang.
She specifically disinherited her daughter, Shelley Scott, and her two grandchildren in favor of her Nepalese employee, but did not give a reason for doing so.
Court records show Scott filed an objection to her mother´s will and received a modest settlement. Through her attorney, Arnie Herz, she indicated that she was "very happy" for Tamang.
The value of the estate is about $8.4 million, according to court records, though it may be worth somewhat less with the sagging real estate market.
Tamang was brought to the U.S. in 1974 by Ms. Ford´s brother, Charles Henri Ford, a surrealist poet, novelist, photographer and collage artist, who had lived for several years in a house in Katmandu.
In the 1940s Ford published the "View," an influential avant-garde magazine that featured contributions from the likes of Pablo Picasso and Albert Camus.
When he arrived, Tamang was in his early 20s. He soon went to work for Ford. After Ford´s death in 2002, he went into service for Ford.
Now 57 years old, Tamang has a wife and three daughters and owns a two-family home in the Woodside section of Queens. Tamang also owns the house in Katmandu where he first worked for Ford.
In addition, he now has a multimillion-dollar inheritance and the views of a co-op board to consider. He became a U.S. citizen last year, more than 20 years after first applying for citizenship, with the help of Ford.
"I was always hearing about America," Tamang said. "I took my chance and I came. I had no idea how the work was going to go and how long I would stay."
When Ford brought Tamang to New York, they moved into the Dakota — into a studio apartment on the 10th floor owned by Ruth Ford. The apartment was built under the eaves of the roof and had once been a maid´s room, albeit one with a park view.
Tamang said he shopped and cooked for Mr. Ford and looked after him as he traveled around the world. He took up photography, and collaborated with Ford on collages and other artistic endeavors. In recent years he became a caregiver as the Fords became frail.
Ford and Scott moved into a larger three-bedroom apartment at the Dakota in the early 1950s and Ms. Ford lived there until her death more than half a century later.
She turned her apartment into a salon, throwing parties where artists, playwrights, novelists and composers would gather. Leonard Bernstein, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams and Andy Warhol spent time there.
The 14-foot-high walls were covered with gold-flecked wallpaper and scores of paintings and drawings by Pavel Tchelitchew, a Russian-born surrealist who was her brother´s partner for several decades before he died in 1957. Tamang was often assigned to assist in her soirees.
Several brokers said it was unlikely that the Dakota´s co-op board, known as one of the most fastidious and unpredictable in the city, would let a former staffer live in the building. A spokeswoman for Prudential Douglas Elliman, which manages the building, declined to comment.
Even though an heir can be the beneficiary of shares in a co-op, the board can refuse to approve the transfer of the shares or can block the right of the beneficiary to live in the building under the basic co-op document known as a proprietary lease.
The issue may not even come up. Karin P.E. Gustafson, an estate attorney who is Ford´s executor, said that after discussing the taxes and other expenses of the estate, Tamang agreed to put one of the units, Ford´s three-bedroom apartment, on the market.
Asked if he thought the board would approve him, Tamang said he didn´t know. "I am satisfied living where I am," he added. The larger apartment was listed in December for $7.5 million with Alexander Peters of Prudential Douglas Elliman, but the price has since been cut five times, including a 10% drop at the end of April, to $4.5 million.
The apartment, half of a much larger corner unit, faces north toward 73rd Street and south toward the Dakota´s interior courtyard.
While it doesn´t have the prized views of Central Park of more expensive apartments in the building, the park can be glimpsed from the living-room windows.
The lowered asking price for the apartment may be offset in part by the rising prices for Tchelitchew´s work. For years a portrait of Ms. Ford hung over a fireplace in the Dakota apartment. Tchelitchew painted it in 1937 when she was 26 and had just moved to New York from Mississippi.
Last month, the painting sold for $986,000, including commissions, at Sotheby´s spring sales of Russian Art, far above the $150,000 minimum and the highest price paid for a Tchelitchew´s work.
Scott, Ford´s daughter, had been estranged from her mother for many decades, but according to Herz kept track of her and was occasionally in touch with Tamang.
"The one thing that everyone seemed to agree upon is that the guy who took care of her mother and the uncle is a very well liked and well respected," Herz said. "Shelley also liked this guy and is happy for him."
Tamang said he hoped to hang onto the second apartment, on the 10th floor, for a while because it is still full of Ford´s photographs and artwork.
In the meantime, Tamang said he had not decided what to do with the new wealth headed his way, except to pay down some of the mortgage on his house in Queens.
the daughter got a settlement anyway---why? she never cared for her mother. that must mean her grand kids never really met their grandmother. its ashame because you should always respect your mother no matter what. seem she wanted nothing to do with her mother but got a settlement anyway. what i want to know is WHY? she wasnt suppose to get anything at all.
And this man was treated like he did not even exist by his own Tamang Society of America members of whose he was president until recently.
Hey, dumb fellow Tamangs, it is high time you go back and apologise to Indra Tamang because he is your saivor. Rememeber, how he used to feed you, how he used to look for job for you, how he used to give you place to stay, how he used to take care of your mails, and how he used to store you suitcases in his own garage while he used
This news deserves coverage for various reasons: 1) it shows that an abusing son or daughter is not necessarily guaranteed to receive property as in our nepali society, This is a sick system. Parents should be allowed to give or not give their properties to their children. 2) this is a better news than reading about some Nepali man hacking an Indian housewife for jewelry.
Good luck buddy. The Nepalese are known for their loyalty and honesty. This is so rewarding for Tamang . All of is in Kathmandu are happy to know this development.