Sidney Anne Willson, a stellar multisport athlete who went on to help her son run a horse-breeding farm in Howard County, died in her sleep Tuesday of natural causes at Shady Grove Center in Rockville. She was 87.
In addition to tennis, a sport in which she won tournaments all along the East Coast during the 1940s and 1950s, the former Sidney Adams played lacrosse and, after taking it up in middle age, excelled in golf. "I have never beaten her in golf my entire life," said her son, Art Willson, of Woodbine. Added her longtime friend, Chi Chi Brown, "She was the most competitive person I've ever known. She excelled at every sport she tried."
Born in Baltimore in 1927 to bank president Irving Adams and his wife, Sidney Riley, Ms. Willson attended the Calvert School and the Bryn Mawr School, from which she graduated in 1946. Her athletic prowess began gaining her notice while she attended Bryn Mawr, where she played several sports.
A Baltimore Sun box score from a March 1946 basketball victory over Roland Park Country School has her scoring 16 of her team's 27 points. The following year, she was chosen to play defense for the Baltimore women's lacrosse team in a 10-team tournament sponsored by the Women's Lacrosse Association.
"She really loved lacrosse," said her son, who noted the family still has his mother's stick in their possession.
But when it came to sports, Ms. Willson may have shined brightest on the tennis court. Playing as an amateur, she entered tournaments not only in the Baltimore area, he said, but also in Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
Ms. Willson loved talking about her trip to England in 1953, when she crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary with her tennis doubles partner, Philadelphia's Charlotte Prizer, and Prizer's husband, John. Art Willson said his mother — as well as Ms. Prizer, when she visited — would speak proudly of winning a first-round doubles match at Wimbledon but then having to with withdraw from the remainder of the tournament because of a planned trip throughout Europe. While in England, however, they were able to obtain premium seats — thanks to Prizer's husband, John, who had connections in English society — for the June 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Although the trip, which had been planned by the Prizers, might have interfered with his mother's chances for tennis glory, Art Willson said, she never held a grudge. "She always said, 'How could I complain when they were taking me on such a wonderful trip?' " he remembered.
As accomplished and well-traveled as she was, Art Willson said, his mother remained in many ways a farm girl at heart. As a teenager, he said, she especially looked forward to summers, which her family would spend on their 200-acre Oak Hill farm, located near Jessup on land that is now the Gateway Overlook shopping center.
She had her own hog pen on the farm, and as a teenager raised a 780-pound Hereford boar that won best of show at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium. "It took four men to handle that sucker in the show ring," Art Willson said.
She married George G. Willson, a horseman and cattle farmer, in 1952. In 1961, the couple moved to the Point Lookout farm in Woodbine, Howard County. Ms. Willson took up fox hunting, riding with several clubs in Maryland and Virginia. At one point, the Willsons established their own pack of hounds and staged hunts with friends.
George Willson died in 1988.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Ms. Willson joined her son in a business acquiring, breeding and selling racehorses from their farm. In 1983, one of Point Lookout Stable's horses, Country Recital, won four stakes races in Maryland — two at Pimlico and two at Laurel — under trainer Barclay Tagg. That year, Country Recital collected $269,000 in purses.
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