Yvonne Sursock Cochrane

A veteran advocate of the arts and Lebanon's cultural heritage, Yvonne Sursock Cochrane died Monday aged 98, four weeks after the devastating Beirut blast in which she was injured. Born into a wealthy Greek Orthodox family-famed for their Sursock Museum-and married to an Irish nobleman, Lady Cochrane died on the eve of the centenary of Lebanon, friends and family said on Facebook. As head of the Association for the Protection of the Sites and Ancient Homes of Lebanon (APSAD), she devoted her life to the preservation of her country's rich architectural heritage.

She had labeled the capital's chaotic and profit-driven reconstruction after its devastating 1975-1990 civil war as little more than an "archaeological massacre". "Beirut, once a joy of the Mediterranean, has been turned into a junkyard," she said of the decade that followed the war. But she voiced confidence that Beirut would once again become "the garden of the Middle East".

Damaged windows are seen at Sursock Palace (1860) following the colossal port explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut.-AFP photos

The massive blast at Beirut port on August 4 hurled her several metres (yards) from the terrace where was taking afternoon tea with friends, leaving her with cuts and bruises. The explosion ripped through swathes of the city, killing at least 188 people and injuring more than 6,500 others. Her listed Ottoman mansion with gardens looking down onto the sea was left in near ruins, like many architectural marvels, including the Sursock Museum, converted from a house donated by Lady Cochrane's uncle. "We shall rebuild," she vowed afterwards.

The death of a woman esteemed as "the memory of Lebanon" stirred outpourings of grief and nostalgia on social media. "A grand figure of the Lebanon of old is gone. A page has turned on a certain refined, cultivated and cosmopolitan Lebanon," Marlene Kanaan wrote on Facebook.-AFP