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Ava Lowle Willing was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Edward Shippen Willing (1822-1906) and his wife, the former Alice Barton. She had two siblings, Susan Ridgway Willing (Mrs. Francis Cooper Lawrence, Jr.) and John Rhea Barton Willing.
She married Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, son of William Backhouse Astor, Jr. and Caroline Webster "Lina" Schermerhorn, on February 17, 1891 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The newlywed couple was given, among many lavish gifts, a furnished townhouse on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Though the marriage was tumultuous, the Astors had two children, William Vincent Astor (b. Nov 15, 1891) and Ava Alice Muriel Astor (b. July 7, 1902).
On November 19, 1909, Ava sued JJ Astor for divorce and March 5, 1910 the State of New York decreed in her favor. Their son lived with his father before leaving to attend Harvard University. Their daughter would be raised by her mother. In the second year of Vincent's education, JJ became one of the RMS Titanic casualties while returning from his honeymoon with his new bride, socialite Madeleine Talmage Force. This event left young Vincent as one of the wealthiest men in the United States. On August 14, 1912, Madeleine would give birth to socialite John Jacob Astor VI.
In 1911, she and her daughter moved to England where she would become the second wife of Thomas Lister, 4th Baron Ribblesdale in 1919 (she was known as Lady Ribblesdale). Lister died on October 21, 1925. Ava had no children from her second marriage, and she did not remarry. She later reclaimed her American citizenship after returning to the United States and she became known as Mrs. Ava Ribblesdale.
Ava died on June 9, 1958 in New York City. She left a token bequest to her son, Vincent, but the bulk of her estate was left to her daughter Ava's four children: Prince Ivan Sergeyevich Obolensky, Princess Sylvia Obolensky, Romana von Hofmannsthal, and Emily Harding.