Mary Gillian Crimmins Fenwick, a former horse trainer recalled as “a beautiful rider,” died of cardiac failure Oct. 18 at Gilchrist Hospice Towson. The Monkton resident was 93.
Born in Sevenoaks, England, she was the daughter of Ralph Gordon Crimmins, an American banker, and his Dublin-born wife, Ethel Chance. Her mother was the daughter of Sir Arthur and Lady Chance.
“Mrs. Fenwick spent an idyllic Irish childhood on Fota Island in rural Cork, where she learned to ride and hunt from a very early age,” said a friend, Christopher Corbett, a writer. “She was educated in convent schools in England and Ireland before moving to the United States at the outbreak of World War II.”
Mrs. Fenwick arrived in New York City on Nov. 24, 1939, aboard the President Harding, which she often recalled was one of the last vessels to leave Ireland as World War II began and a German blockade essentially sealed off the neutral nation.
“She was allowed to enter the U.S. because her late father had been an American citizen. He drowned in a sailing accident in Ireland when she was a child,” said Mr. Corbett. “She also recalled that she and her mother brought only their maid and one horse with them when they sailed from Cobh, the port of Cork. The Nazis sank the President Harding the following spring.”
He said she continued her education at the old Greenwood School on Charles Street near Ruxton and later at Radcliffe College, now Harvard University.
As a young woman she rode and hunted sidesaddle.
She married married Henry Robertson Fenwick, a Glyndon resident, in 1948 at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church in Hydes. They divorced in the late 1960s.
She and her husband trained horses together. She hunted with the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club and later with the Green Spring Valley Hounds.
"Gill taught me horsemanship as a kid. She gave me first pair of riding leggings,” said her nephew, Bruce Fenwick. “She herself was a beautiful rider who could make a horse do anything. Gill was also a great entertainer.”
He recalled that his aunt was an accomplished foxhunter.
“In the late 1950s she whipped hounds for the Greenspring Hunt,” he said.
Mrs. Fenwick said in a 1962 Maryland Horse article that she and her husband trained as many at 25 horses at a time at what was then known as Warburton Farm in Butler. The property is now called Western Run Farm.
The Grand National Steeplechase race, the middle timber race that follows My Lady’s Manor and precedes the Maryland Hunt Cup, is held partially on the grounds of the farm where Mrs. Fenwick lived for decades.
Friends said she gave a Saturday afternoon luncheon the day of the Grand National and prepared a meal of crab cakes, ham, corn pudding and stewed tomatoes she had simmered for hours in brown sugar.
“Everyone looked forward to that lunch,” said J.W.Y. “Duck” Martin, a friend. “As kid I grew up in her horse barn. I learned all my equine knowledge from Gill. She was a brilliant horsewoman and was elegant on a horse.”
Mrs. Fenwick told the Maryland Horse that she and her husband mostly bought horses at the Charles Town race course in West Virginia and other rural racetracks. They paid modest sums of money.
“We shop the tracks almost constantly. ... Our operation is strictly making and training hunters and jumpers," she said, adding that sometimes they got lucky.
Although Mrs. Fenwick told the Maryland Horse that most of the horses they looked at did not pan out, she did have some celebrated mounts. The couple trained Fluctuate, which won the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1959 and 1960.
And Mrs. Fenwick was early involved in the training of Jay Trump, a famous timber horse and three-time winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup that also won the English Grand National at Aintree in England in 1965 with jockey Crompton “Tommy” Smith aboard.
“Her death is a big loss to the turf world. She was a pillar," said J. William Boniface, a Harford County horse trainer and the 1983 Preakness winner.
Mr. Boniface said Mrs. Fenwick belonged to a more casual era of turf racing. “She lived during the good years."
Mr. Boniface also noted that Mrs. Fenwick was famously generous and helped many in the horse business, often anonymously.
“Gill was one of a kind,” said Mr. Boniface. “It would make a book to tell how many people she helped anonymously. And it would be a thick book.”
Frank A. Bonsal Jr., who rode Lancrel in the 1956 Hunt Cup, said of Mrs. Frewick: “She was an excellent horsewoman and a wonderful person.”
In addition to her horse training and hunting, Mrs. Fenwick was a member of the Mount Vernon Club and a longtime supporter of the Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton.
Mrs. Fenwick spent her final years in Monkton in an old farmhouse. She formerly spent time at a residence in Maui in the winter and traveled throughout Australia, New Zealand and Thailand.
She was a voracious reader. Her eyesight failed in recent years and she listened to more than 500 recorded books from the Baltimore County Public Library. She enjoyed the novels of Edith Wharton, Henry James and Evelyn Waugh.
She was active in supporting recovering alcoholics and was a proud member of Alcoholics Anonymous for decades.
Survivors include three daughters, Chance Fenwick Earle of Friday Harbor, Washington, Elizabeth Fleming Fenwick of Inverness, California, and Carol Crimmins Fenwick of Butler; a son, Martin Stewart Fenwick of Millidgeville, Georgia; a brother, William Crimmins of Newport, Rhode Island; two grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters. Her longtime companion, Caleb Dorsey “Mike” Pascal, a horse trainer, died in 2013.
A private memorial service will be held in the spring.