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Katharine Merryman, 79, horse trainer who raised thoroughbreds in Sparks


Katharine Merryman, an energetic horse trainer who raised thoroughbreds and was a member of a well-known Maryland family, died Friday at her Sparks farm of Alzheimer's disease.

She was 79 and had lived 55 years at the farm, known as The Orebanks.

Born Katharine Lee Warfield, she was the oldest of five children born into a prominent family that lived on a 3,000-acre estate in the Woodbine section of western Howard County. Known as Oakdale, the farm had been in the Warfield family for generations.

Her oldest brother was the late Maj. Gen. Edwin Warfield III, commander of the Maryland National Guard and chief executive of the Daily Record. Her grandfather, Gov. Edwin Warfield, founded the newspaper, and her distant cousin, Wallis Warfield Simpson, married the Duke of Windsor.

But family and friends say Mrs. Merryman was an approachable woman who loved farming, hard work and horses.

"She was a country girl through and through," said Louise Warfield Stump, a sister from Cockeysville.

Mrs. Merryman attended the Garrison Forest School, where she graduated in 1940. After high school, she attended the Maryland Institute College of Art.

In the 1940s, she did industrial drafting for an area firm while living at home and helped her father run the family farm in Howard County for a few years, her sister said.

In 1947, she married John B. Merryman, who was raised on a farm in Sparks, took over the family's livestock operation and became a leader in Maryland's horse racing and agricultural communities. He died in 1993.

After their marriage, the couple purchased their 530-acre farm in Sparks where they raised cattle and prize-winning thoroughbreds. The Merrymans had six children -- five of whom became professional horse trainers.

"She made the hay, foaled the mares, and broke in the yearlings that were brought in," said daughter Frances Merryman, the one child who did not become a trainer. "She made us all feel like slackers."

Mrs. Merryman frequently traveled to tracks along the East Coast to race her horses. With her husband, she raised thoroughbreds that won many stakes, such as Twixt, who was ranked sixth in the country in the 1970s. When her husband died, she began running the operation, overseeing stables with 45 horses until her health began to fail in 1997, her daughter said.

Mrs. Merryman remained energetic despite two strokes and suffering from Lyme disease in her later years, relatives said.

Frances Merryman, who lives in Tucson, said she returned from Arizona for a visit about six years ago to find her mother mowing the 5-acre lawn around the home. She offered to finish the chore, but her mother insisted on doing it herself.

"She was one of a kind," Ms. Merryman said.

Joseph B. Kelly, a consultant for Pimlico and a former racing editor for the Washington Star, said Mrs. Merryman was the matriarch of a well-respected Maryland horse racing family.

"She represented Maryland racing style, meaning that she was gracious, and sort of understated," Mr. Kelly said.

Mrs. Merryman was a member of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and Sherwood Episcopal Church in Cockeysville.

Services will be held at 3 p.m. today at Sherwood Episcopal Church, Sherwood and York roads.

In addition to her sister and daughter, she is survived by three other daughters, Katharine Voss of West Friendship, Ann Merryman of Sparks and Elizabeth Hendriks of Unionville, Pa.; two sons, Edwin Merryman of Port Deposit and John Merryman Jr. of Sparks; and eight grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the Copper Ridge Institute, an affiliate of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, 710 Obrecht Road, Sykesville 21784.

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