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Frances G. Fox, an accomplished horsewoman who was a repository of Maryland and Baltimore County history, dies

Frances G. Fox won seven Gittings medals and was known as an excellent “catch rider.”
Frances G. Fox won seven Gittings medals and was known as an excellent “catch rider.”

Frances G. Fox, an accomplished horsewoman who was a repository of Maryland and Baltimore County history and an Annapolis historic tour guide, died March 20 of pneumonia at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Towson resident was 92.

The former Frances Dennis Gould, daughter of Clarendon Ivan Theodore Gould, a stockbroker, and his wife, Mary Dennis Chiles Gould, a farmer, was born in Baltimore and raised at Ridgeview, her parents’ farm at Falls and Padonia roads, and at Essex Farm, her grandfather John M. Dennis Sr.'s farm in Riderwood, that is today the Valley Country Club.

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She was a descendant and fourth great-granddaughter of Thomas Johnson, who was Maryland’s first non-Colonial governor and after being elected by the state legislature in 1777 served until 1779. He was also an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and confidant of George Washington.

Her maternal grandfather was John McPherson Dennis Sr., who was Maryland state treasurer from 1916 to 1918 and from 1920 to 1935, and a power in state Democratic politics for many years, longtime president of the old Union Trust Co. and president of the Maryland State Fair.

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Mr. Dennis later purchased Happy Hopeful, a 120-acre farm on West Padonia Road, which he gave to Mrs. Fox’s parents, and where she moved in 1996 and lived until moving to Brightview Senior Living in Towson in July.

“Horses were a huge part of her life. Growing up she fox hunted with Elkridge Harford Hunt Club and rode the countryside with dear friends Harriet Iglehart and Nancy Maher to name a few,” wrote her daughter, France P. Burns of Monkton, in a biographical profile of her mother.

“They rode everywhere and jumped EVERYTHING! She had guts! She rode horses to the Maryland State Fairgrounds for the state fair and probably won more Hunter Awards than I ever knew,” Ms. Burns wrote. “She was the winner of one of the early Gittings trophies among many others. I hear stories from others and I marvel as she never told me about her riding accomplishments. She was like that.”

Mrs. Fox eventually won seven Gittings medals and became known as an excellent “catch rider,” which means she could ride horses of all levels.

She was a 1945 graduate of Garrison Forest School and the next year married Allan H. Burns Jr., a Ramsay Scarlett & Co. Inc. salesman who sold container space. The couple divorced in 1968.

She taught at Roland Park Country School and in 1971 married Marine Corps Col. George C. Fox, a Warrenton, Virginia, native, who shared her love of horses. They rode together and were ardent fans of the Maryland Hunt Cup and the Maryland and Virginia steeplechase circuit.

While her husband was still in the Marines she learned how to be a military wife after he was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. “She took right to it and really loved the parades and festivities,” her daughter wrote.

While in North Carolina, Mrs. Fox was introduced to boating by her husband. They named their first boat Guzzle Gut and moved on to a larger one that they named Fox Den. After he retired from the service, the couple moved to Arnold and a house on the Magothy River where they continued boating.

“She and the Colonel were an imposing pair. They were strong and commanded respect,” wrote Ross Peddicord, former Evening Sun horse racing reporter, who is now executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, in an email. “They were also kind, caring and full of love for horses and humans.”

Mrs. Fox passed her love of horses on to her three children.

“She always drove us to our horse shows in the blue van,” Ms. Burns wrote. “One time she was dressed in her luncheon club clothes which included a white hat with netting, a beautiful blue suit and white gloves. She was never a horse show mom. She taught the three of us that we needed to work hard, be honest and play fair.”

Wrote Mr. Peddicord: “Not only was Frances an excellent rider and horsewoman, she instituted that love of horses in her daughters Hellen and Fran. Hellen was a top show rider with a champion hunter named Stuart Little. Fran has her own farm and works to educate folks about horses, from running Sunrise Tours at Preakness to giving tours of the horse activities at the Maryland State Fair.”

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While Mrs. Fox was fascinated with history, she was especially fond of Maryland and Baltimore County history, her daughter said in a telephone interview.

“Her extensive knowledge of Maryland and our family history was astounding,” Ms. Burns said.

For years, Mrs. Fox worked in Annapolis as a historic tour guide for Three Centuries Tours, where she would greet tourgoers dressed in authentic Colonial clothing.

Mrs. Fox remained very interested in the thoroughbred rescue work that Ms. Burns did for the MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, based in Warwick in Cecil County.

“You could often find her at McDonogh horse shows watching my horse Dreamer show,” her daughter said. “She was very proud of the Hellen Burns Smyth Award that we co-founded to remember my sister. She was especially proud because it was bringing new folks to the State Fair.”

Mrs. Fox was also a lacrosse fan and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport at Johns Hopkins University.

Mrs. Fox thoroughly enjoyed picking up her closest friend, Cheryl Hammond, twice a week and setting off in her blue Subaru station wagon on jaunts that would range from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Chesapeake City and to Annapolis and Easton. The pair always looked forward to their two-week summer vacation at Ms. Burns’ shore house in Avalon, New Jersey.

“We called them Thelma and Louise,” her daughter said, laughing.

Mrs. Fox enjoyed a daily cocktail hour and sipping two drinks of Kentucky Gentleman bourbon on the rocks. "She liked rotgut bourbon and would say the ‘cheaper the better,' or ‘just the cheap stuff’ when she went to a restaurant,’” her daughter said.

She was a member of the Baltimore Country Club and the Colonial Dames of America Chapter 1.

“Frances and the legacy she created with her daughters embody the strength of Maryland’s horse industry,” Mr. Peddicord wrote. “It is not a myth. It is multigenerational, a cultural way of life, Frances embodied that in the way she lived and how she raised her family.”

“My mother had 92 wonderful years,” her daughter said.

She was a member of Saint Stephen’s Anglican Church in Timonium, where plans for a celebration of life service are incomplete due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her son, Allan H. Burns III of Pine Key, Florida; two stepsons, G. Chandler Fox Jr. of Fairfax, Virginia, and Richard Fox of Fayetteville, North Carolina; and a stepdaughter, Beth Lee also of Fayetteville.

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