Leith Symington Griswold, matriarch of the Symington and Griswold families, who was an accomplished equestrienne, died of heart failure Tuesday at her Monkton home. She was 97.
Born in Baltimore, she was the daughter of John Fife "Jack" Symington, an industrialist and sportsman, and Arabella Hambleton Symington, who served on charitable boards. Mrs. Griswold grew up on the family's Lutherville farm, Tallwood, and graduated from the Bryn Mawr School. She attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music and a school in Rome.
After her marriage in 1936 to Benjamin H. Griswold III, senior partner of the old Alex. Brown & Sons investment firm, the couple moved to Fancy Hill, their farm on Hess Road in Monkton, where they lived together for 66 years, family members said.
"My mother's life revolved around her children and the outdoors," said her son, Benjamin H. Griswold IV of Butler. "She was an accomplished equestrienne since childhood. Horses were a central part of her life for over 90 years."
Family members said her favorite sport was fox hunting, which she pursued with great enthusiasm in Maryland as well as in England and Ireland. She had a serious riding accident in 1979.
Her focus shifted to steeplechase racing. She owned horses that won major Maryland races, including the Maryland Hunt Cup. As recently as late September, she attended the races at Shawan Downs.
"She was determined to be there because the family had a couple of horses running," said her son.
Mrs. Griswold was an accomplished gardener. She was a founding trustee of the Ladew Topiary Gardens in Harford County, where a memorial fund has been created in her name.
She was honored by the Garden Club of America for her work. Her gardens at Fancy Hill and at Beechwood in County Tipperary, Ireland, were a lifelong passion, her son said. The couple purchased an old rectory in Ireland, where she raised roses and had an herbaceous perennial border.
"She was small in stature but huge in personality," said a friend, Aurelia Garland Bolton of Brooklandville. "She lived a colorful and productive life. She would write the most beautiful letters."
She was known as "Marm" within her family and to a circle of friends throughout the U.S., Great Britain and Europe, family members said. Mrs. Griswold spoke French and Italian and was an enthusiastic traveler in those countries.
"She always enjoyed the company of younger people, was very forward thinking and remained interested in world affairs," said her son. "She was a stellar member of 'Great Generation' and she influenced multiple generations of her family. ... She was incredibly brave and feisty. She was particularly proud of her Symington heritage."
Another son, Jack Symington Griswold, also of Butler, said of his mother: "She had a unique personality and unique insights into personality. She combined that with a sense of humor. She was innately intelligent and had street smarts. She was an amazing, caring person."
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Mrs. Griswold's lifelong love of music in general, and the piano, was acknowledged in 1998 when the Peabody Institute in Mount Vernon renamed its historic North Hall, which opened in the 19th century as an art gallery, in her honor.
Mrs. Griswold held a floral bouquet at an inaugural concert of an organ in the hall, where students often perform at the organ or in vocal programs. The hall, which overlooks Mount Vernon Place, is decorated by a tapestry donated by the Hearst Corp. and a replica of the Parthenon's frieze.
"All of us at Peabody were saddened to learn of the death of Leith Symington Griswold. Mrs. Griswold studied piano at the Peabody Preparatory in the '20s and '30s and received a bachelor's degree from the Conservatory in 1956," said Jeffrey Sharkey, director of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. "She and her family remained lifelong friends and supporters of the Peabody Institute. Her commitment continued when she endowed the Arabella Leith Symington Griswold Endowed Scholarship in Piano. ... The Griswold Hall features a beautiful Holtkamp organ and is one of the finest halls for solo and small ensemble performances in the Baltimore region. This beautiful concert venue would not have been possible but for the steadfast support of Mrs. Griswold and her family. The Peabody Institute will be forever grateful."
Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 26 at St. James Episcopal Church in Monkton, where she was a member.
In addition to her sons, survivors include a daughter, Nancy Knox of Monkton; 11 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. Her husband of nearly 70 years died in 2006. A daughter, Lelia Leith Griswold, also died in 2006.