Frances Mason, co-founder of Glenelg Country School, dies at 91

Frances Wellford Mason, of Ellicott City, dedicated her life to causes she was passionate about — animals and education. So it was perhaps not surprising that, with no prior experience, she raised a flock of sheep on a farm and helped found the Glenelg Country School.

Mason died Aug. 16, 2011, at her Ellicott City home of natural causes. She was 91.

Born on Oct. 3, 1919, in Richmond, Va., to James McDonald Wellford and Frances Colquhoun Myers, Mason had three brothers. She grew up as a southern belle, friends and family members say, and was a debutante.

Following her 1937 graduation from St. Catherine's School, in Richmond, she went on to work at Virginia Life Insurance and Dow Chemical Co. Mason was also an occasional fashion model for local department stores and companies, and even did an advertisement for Dove Soap.

She met Jack Mason, of Wilmington, Del., at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, in the late 1930s, and the two married in 1943.

In 1950, the couple moved to Howard County and purchased 46 acres of farmland, located off of Old Annapolis Road, in Ellicott City, which they named Squirrel Hill. Despite her lack of farming experience, Frances managed the farm, handling the finances and staff, and delivering sheep in the middle of the night.

The couple maintained a flock of up to 80 sheep on the farm, raised crops such as corn and hay, and always had a variety of barnyard animals around, including pigs, steers, ducks and chickens.

Barbara Warfield, of Clarksville, who knew Mason for nearly 60 years after the two met at the Howard County Garden Club, of which Mason was a member for as long of a time, described her as "a charming Southern lady who never lost her Virginia accent.

"She loved Richmond. She lived here (in Ellicott City) forever, but I think her heart never left Richmond. She'd talk about the dances and parties they would have down there, and here they didn't have many social activities until you got to know people."

In 1954, Frances and Jack Mason and six other people, unsatisfied with the existing school system, established the Glenelg Country School, which opened on Sept. 23, 1954, with 35 students. One of Frances Mason's sons, Tenney Mason (a former employee of this newspaper), recalled painting the walls of what is now the Manor House, a private home that was converted into a classroom building.

In addition to education and farming, Frances Mason was involved with a variety of causes.

As an active member of the Howard County Historical Society, she was part of a campaign to preserve the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute. She also helped open an antique shop in Ellicott City, known as the Old Line Shop, on Main Street, to raise money for the historical society. She also served on the boards of numerous other county institutions, including the Animal Welfare Society of Howard County and the Howard County Garden Club.

Warfield said Mason also maintained an impressive garden at her own home.

"I was surprised by how extensive it was.She would give out plants from time to time and was very generous," Warfield said. "She was just a lady. That's all I can say."

Mason was a member of Trinity Episcopal Church, in Elkridge, for more than 40 years.

Mason was preceded in death by her husband of 63 years, Jack Mason, who died in 2006. A daughter, Heather Winfield, died in 1970.

She is survived by two sons, Tenney Mason, of Sykesville, and Edmund Mason, of Ellicott City; two daughters, Jinx Chapman, of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., and MaryMac Mason, of Ellicott City; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Relatives and friends will gather to remember Mason on Saturday, Aug. 27, at 3 p.m., at Squirrel Hill Farm, 9725 Old Annapolis Road, in Ellicott City. Burial will take place at Hollywood Cemetery, in Richmond, Va., on Sept. 10, at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Animal Welfare Society of Howard County, 8556 Davis Road, Columbia, MD 21045.

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