Eleanor Reifsnider Riggs, an adventurous traveler who assisted her husband in their cattle-raising operation, died of heart failure Nov. 28 at her home in the Brightwood Retirement Community in Brooklandville. She was 105 and about to celebrate her 106th birthday.
Born in Westminster, she was the daughter of Charles Trimble Reifsnider, an attorney, and his wife, Jane Carew. A 1932 graduate of the Bryn Mawr School, she was its oldest living alumna. For years she led the school’s annual springtime Gym Drill.
“The spectators would erupt in applause. I think she did it until she was 101,” said her daughter-in-law, Sheila Riggs.
She made her debut at the Bachelors Cotillon and married Richard C. Riggs Sr., a cattle breeder.
She and her husband lived his family’s Fox Hall Farm in Catonsville and later at a home called Blendon in Baltimore County. That residence and its grounds became part of the Caves Valley Country Club.
She and her husband raised cattle together. She took an active part in the farm they operated.
“She had an effortless elegance, but it came in a warm-hearted spirit," said her daughter-in-law. "She was was full of bon mots and was quick with a quip.”
Mrs. Riggs was recalled for her willingness to travel to distant places that lacked traditional tourist amenities.
“She and her husband liked going to civilized places, but what they really liked was to find spots that had been closed to tourists and were newly opened,” her daughter-in-law said.
A nephew. Clinton Riggs Daly, said, "One of life’s lessons shared with me at a young age but never forgotten was [my aunt’s] love of adventure .She and her husband would travel to exotic places often motivated by the fact that a regime change could close that country to visitation for a lifetime.
“Aunt Snookie [Mrs. Riggs] had a love for speed, classic sports cars, and a fast drive in the country,” Mr. Daly said. "When asked why she was giving up the wheel at 96 , she replied, ‘I’ve had a good run’ and ‘I didn’t like getting passed on the Beltway.’ ”
He also said, “Aunt Snookie always exhibited the hallmarks of elegance and style infused with her good humor and radiant charm. She had an eye for beauty which she found in people, animals, antiquities and nature. She knew the benefits of daily exercise long before it was fashionable to be fit.”
At 89, she went snowmobiling in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
“We took her snowmobiling in the mountains,” said her daughter-in-law. "She wore the same parka she had worn during an earlier trip to Antarctica. She hit a bump and dumped the snowmobile, with her, into a snowy ditch. We gasped and held our breaths, but she came up laughing.
“She was not a period piece and was open to new ideas. People loved being around her. She was entertaining.”
Family members said was photogenic and became the center of group photographs.
“Although people say that you should not be seen in a picture holding a cocktail glass, she did the opposite,” her daughter-in-law said. "The moment anyone suggested taking a photo, she would reach for a glass and hold it up for the camera because it was a party."
Mrs. Riggs believed in exercise and did so until her late 90s. When a guest at her retirement community knocked on her door at Brightwood and received no answer, he went to the front desk to inquire about her. A receptionist said, “Mrs. Riggs? Oh yes! I just saw her heading to the gym!”
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She was active in the preservation movement. She was a member of the Friends of the American Wing at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Maryland Historical Society. She was a past president of the Greenspring Valley Garden Club.
She was a volunteer at the Mount Clare Mansion in Carroll Park. She won the 1975 best in show at a needlework contest at Mount Clare.
“She was an exquisite needlepointer,” her daughter-in-law said.
A friend, Dr. William F. Fritz, said, “Eleanor was an icon. She was beautiful in face and character, always impeccably groomed. She had a keen mind, quick wit and great presence. She was not someone who you would soon forget. She admired all things of beauty, a well-designed garden, a handsome piece of furniture or a good painting. She was a generous friend."
A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Owings Mills, where she was communicant.
Survivors include a son, Richard Cromwell Riggs Jr. of Baltimore; two daughters, Jane Riggs Garcia-Mansilla of New York City and Mary Riggs Wolfe of Baltimore; eight grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren. Her husband of 56 years died 1989. A daughter, Eleanor Riggs Hopkins, died in 2012.