Philanthropist and conservationist Matilda Stream dies at 99

Published 2:48 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2023

World-renowned art collector, architectural preservationist, philanthropist and lover of the land Matilda Gray Stream has died. She was 99.

In 2007, Louisiana Public Broadcasting named her a “Louisiana Legend.” She was as passionate about collecting alligator eggs to help manage the population as she was about sharing her collection of priceless Fabergé Eggs inherited from her aunt and namesake, Matilda Geddings Gray, an oil heiress.

But it wasn’t “things” that distinguished her life, according to her grandson, William “Gray” Stream, but the way she treated people.

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“She was just as comfortable sitting and talking with the cowboys at the ranch as the people she met traveling the world,” Gray Stream said.

From her aunt, Matilda Stream also inherited the Greek revival-style Gray Plantation Home at 2417 Shell Beach Drive that now serves as the headquarters for one of the many Stream companies, and the 150,000-acre Gray Ranch, set to be the site of the nation’s largest-ever investment in carbon removal.

The Gray Community and Gray Plantation in South Lake Charles were developed by the Stream family.

Grandson Gray Stream said, at first, that his grandmother really did not have a favorite property or piece of art.

“She loved it all and took care of everything,” he said. “If she did have a favorite property, I guess it would be Evergreen. She spent so many decades just investing so much time and care and resources into something she thought was a treasure of history and made it a designated landmark.”

Matilda Stream fought off a chemical company to preserve Evergreen Plantation in Edgard. It is the South’s most intact plantation and is now a research site for the study of slavery, archeology, sociology and history.

“If your grandmother’s life could be memorialized, preserved, symbolized with one of her possessions, and only one, what would she have chosen,” the American Press asked Stream.

“It might sound cliche,” Stream said. “As much as her life was about conservation and preservation, things were not what were most important to her. I think the way she would want to be honored, and the way I will honor her memory is by treating people well, to give credit where credit is due. She never took credit for herself.”

When she accepted the “Louisiana Legend” award, she claimed she had never done anything extraordinary. It was the people that worked for her that made it possible.

“I feel like I am here under false pretenses, and they are doing all the work and I’m getting all the glory.”

Jim Nichol is the host who introduced her that night in 2007. He said she has donated her time, talents and resources of her family to preserve the state’s history, art and coastline.

Now it can be said, it was her life’s work.