Former FEI President Doña Pilar de Borbón dies at 83

The Infanta Doña Pilar de Borbón (1936-2020).
The Infanta Doña Pilar de Borbón (1936-2020). © FEI

Former FEI president the Infanta Doña Pilar de Borbón has died at the age of 83 following a year-long battle with cancer.

The elder sister of former King of Spain Juan Carlos I was president of the FEI from 1994 to 2006. She died on January 8 at a hospital in Madrid, Spain, after suffering from colon cancer.

The title “infanta” means legitimate daughter to the king but not heiress to the throne.

Doña Pilar de Borbón was an equestrian athlete at national level before taking over the reins at the FEI in 1994 from Princess Anne, the Princess Royal. The Infanta was elected as a member of the IOC two years later, a position she held for the remainder of her tenure at the FEI. When her term in office as FEI President came to an end in 2006, she was made Honorary President of the FEI and an IOC Honorary Member, titles she retained until her death.

She always maintained her contact with the FEI, attending the inauguration of the FEI Headquarters in Lausanne in May 2011 and she was also present at the FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final 2016 at the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona, venue for the Barcelona 1992 Olympic equestrian events.

“Doña Pilar was one of the warmest people I have ever met and was a wonderful President of the FEI for 12 years,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos said. “She was a true visionary, introducing a strategic plan to modernise the Federation and initiating a solid governance structure that was taken forward by her successor HRH Princess Haya.

“She had a no-nonsense attitude that meant she was straight to the point but always done with great humour. She will live on in the collective memory of the equestrian world forever.”

Born in Cannes, France, on July 30, 1936 to the Count and Countess of Barcelona — Juan de Borbón y Battenberg and Princess María de las Mercedes de Borbón y Orleans — while the Spanish family was in exile during the Spanish civil war, she grew up in Estoril, Portugal. She also lived for some time in Italy and in the Olympic Capital, of Lausanne, Switzerland, home of both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the FEI.

She obtained a nursing diploma in Portugal and practised her profession for three years in a variety of hospitals. Well-known for her charitable work, she was actively involved in several charities, including the Red Cross, Friends of the Monasteries, Foundation for the Defence of Life, Nuevo Futuro, Action Aid, Foundation for Investigation and Training in Oncology.

At the age of 31 she married Luis Gómez-Acebo and the couple had five children, Simoneta, Juan, Bruno, Beltrán and Fernando. She needed to renounce her rights of succession to the Spanish throne to marry a commoner as stipulated by the Pragmatic Sanction of Charles III on marriages of members of the royal family; later in 1987 she was made Infanta, ad personam, by her brother King Juan Carlos with the style of Royal Highness. Her husband died of lymphatic cancer in March 1991.

The infanta was an Executive Board member of the Spanish National Olympic Committee and Honorary President of the Spanish Equestrian Federation. Between 2007 and 2009, she was President of Europa Nostra, a pan-European Federation for Cultural Heritage, established to safeguard Europe’s cultural and natural heritage.

Her brother Juan Carlos I reigned as King of Spain from November 1975 until his abdication in June 2014, when the Infanta’s nephew, King Don Felipe VI, took over the throne.

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