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Mary Wanamaker ‘Minnie’ Watriss, painter, gardener and equestrian, dies

Mary Wanamaker “Minnie” Watriss was an accomplished fox hunter and a patron of steeplechase racing.
Mary Wanamaker “Minnie” Watriss was an accomplished fox hunter and a patron of steeplechase racing.

Mary Wanamaker “Minnie” Watriss, a painter, gardener and equestrian, died of a stroke Dec. 18 at Sinai Hospital. She was 89 and lived in Butler in Baltimore County and in coastal Maine.

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Los Angeles and Southampton, New York, she was the daughter of Alexandra Devereux and Rodman Wanamaker II, whose family owned the John Wanamaker department store business in Philadelphia and New York City.

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“Minnie and I grew up together on the West Coast and she was the most beautiful young girl I ever met,” said a friend, Perry J. Bolton. “In later years, we always looked forward to her lunches before the race and her wonderful flowers.”

She attended the Foxcroft School and Bennett Junior College before moving to Glyndon at the time of her 1952 marriage to C.A. Porter Hopkins, a Republican state senator, who represented Baltimore County. They later divorced.

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“My mother stayed close to the extended Hopkins family all her life,” said her daughter, Alix Hopkins of Pownal, Maine.

Her daughter also said, “Minnie possessed natural talents for landscape and interior design, and as a painter, especially in the last 20 years of her life, she created beauty and color around her.”

“She was shy, but that belied a personal warmth, kindness, irreverence and a love of laughter, a laughter that was often incited by her,” her daughter Alix said. “Minnie embodied a resilience of spirit all her life. She valued friends of all ages and perspectives. She was determined and fearless when need be.”

Her daughter said her mother loved horses and dogs. Mrs. Watriss was an accomplished fox hunter and a patron of steeplechase racing.

She was a partner in Arcadia Stables and enjoyed success with trainer Jack Fisher and her co-owners Andre Brewster and Skippy Cochran. Her winning horses included Bubble Economy and Footlights.

She spent the summer months along the coast of Maine, at Northeast Harbor and Mount Desert Island, and also Islesboro. She enjoyed picnics and boating there.

Mrs. Watriss was a patron of the Ladew Topiary Gardens in Harford County.

“She was one of the first persons I met when I arrived at Ladew 22 years ago,” said Emily Emerick, Ladew’s executive director. “She was always generous in opening her house to Ladew garden tours — she had a fabulous personal garden. Her home overlooked the east end of the Grand National Race Course. It was quite a setting.”

“Minnie had a wonderful, deep raspy voice, and she dressed beautifully,” Ms. Emerick said.

Stiles T. Colwill, a friend of many years and an interior designer, said: “Minnie had a phenomenal sense of humor. On the day of Grand National, her sideboard groaned with racing trophies. She was a grand hostess and served a beautiful luncheon — baked crab salad, tomato aspic, Smithfield ham on biscuits, and these wonderful cookies. She told you to put a few of them in your pocket and nibble on them while you watched the race that followed the lunch. Minnie was amazing.”

Her daughter Alix said her mother, only a few days before she died, spoke of her decades living in Baltimore County.

“She shared a description of vivid sunset colors fading in the western sky beyond the post-and-rail fence and between the towering white pines — a view she had every day for 50 years,” her daughter said.

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Mrs. Watriss’ philanthropies included the Ladew Gardens and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust in Topsham.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include two other daughters, Devereux Hopkins of Bar Harbor, Maine, and Lindsay Hopkins-Weld of Scarborough, Maine; a sister, Lynn W. Rice of Southampton, New York; a brother, Courtlandt Gross of Santa Barbara, California; and three grandsons. She later married H. Robertson Fenwick, who died in 1976. She then married James B. Watriss, who died in 1998.

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