Three state historical markers dedicated to the Mellon family are now “on the map”. On July 4th, the markers were officially unveiled by none other than (historically) America’s First Lady, Martha Washington: The “Paul Mellon (1907-1999)” marker highlights his life and philanthropy; “Rokeby Stables,” where Mellon bred and raised champion racehorses in Fauquier County; and “Mary Elizabeth Conover Mellon (1904-1946),” whose interests led to the founding of the Bollingen Foundation and publication of the writings of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in English.
In a gathering of individuals whose personal or professional lives were touched by the Mellon family, Horsewoman Paula Michaels of the Piedmont Hounds described his racing contributions, earning him the titles Exemplar of Racing and Pillar of the Turf from the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. (A statue of Sea Hero graces the garden next to the National Sporting Library and Museum as well as in the paddock of Saratoga Springs, tiny icons to his love of art.) “By all accounts, he was a shy, self-effacing gentleman. His shyness was skillfully hidden by good manners, great charm, and a finely tuned, rather playful sense of humor. He was the perfect gentleman, honorable, loyal, considerate of others, conscientious in his stewardships and, invariably, taking great pains to be fair.”
Paula described a friend’s memories of Mellon. “This friend waxed eloquent about the fact that Mr. Mellon was one of the first, if not the first racing owner, who provided benefits to his employees.” Rokeby Stables won more than 1,000 stakes races between 1948 and 1997, earning more than $30 million, and Mr. Mellon was the only owner to have won three of the most prestigious races in the world: the Kentucky Derby, the Epsom Derby, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. He funded the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, among its research projects to find a cure for laminitis, the condition that caused Secretariat’s premature euthanasia. A consummate horseman and breeder, he loved to foxhunt and served as a master of the Piedmont Fox Hounds along with Mrs. Randolph. With the self-deprecation humor, his experiences of falling into the ditches of Yorkshire so often while hunting with the Middleton Hunt in England earned him the sobriquet Water Mellon.
Alison Porter of Conover Systems, a company named for Mary Elizabeth Conover Mellon, described its mission to improve care for young women who have a rare disease commonly known as “premature menopause.” 55 years ago, Allison described, Mr. Mellon personally funded the higher education of a promising young high school student, Larry Nelson, from a working-class family in Pittsburgh. Nearly 30 years of his career, Dr. Lawrence “Doc” Nelson has led a team at the NIH researching premature menopause. “Good philanthropy creates a legacy lasting beyond the original intent,” Alison said.
Doc took center stage quoting Nelson Mandella: “With freedom comes responsibilities…” Followed by a quote from George Washington, “Occupants of public offices love power and are prone to abuse it,” a universally held truth that with freedom and wealth come responsibilities – a hallmark of the Mellon family.
Arriving at the church in a shining ruby Corvette convertible with Martha Washington, Doc mentioned he represented the Friends of General Brown, MD, a descendant of one of America’s founding Patriots, Physician General William Brown, MD. “We are here on the Fourth of July to give thanks for our freedom, to give thanks for the sacrifices of others who have defended our freedom, and to honor a man who took his responsibilities seriously. And, Mr. Mellon had no love of power.”
Dressed in period costume as Martha Washington, Anne Arnhart, a World War II veteran and member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, remained in character as she mentioned that she had asked George to attend but he could not leave his men. Arriving by “buggy” (the shiny ruby Corvette), Martha described how beautiful she thought the Virginia countryside was.
Asking the audience if they remembered that George was a surveyor, she remembered one night when there was a loud knock at the door. By the fire, she was knitting and George was enjoying his pipe. George opened the door to an irate man yelling, “You, Sir, charged me too much tobacco today when you surveyed my land!” The man went on, “You had but a piece of twine and a stick and you dare ask that I pay you a large amount of tobacco!”
George calmly said to him, “Sir, I did not charge you for the twine. I did not charge you for the stick. Sir, I only charged you for the know-how.” George’s wit was well known and well-practiced.
In closing before the unveilings, Yakir Lubowsky, president of the Fauquier History Society, reminded everyone of the “epic” generosity that we all enjoy and cherish: open spaces. Land that will never be developed. Citing a few examples, “Mr. Mellon conserved in perpetuity more than 4,000 acres of land at his beautiful Rokeby and Oak Spring Farms. He consulted on the creation of the Piedmont Environmental Council and helped fund the organization’s critical early years; and, in doing so, fostered by far the most significant conservation actor in the Region and a model NGO for the rest of the country. Most dramatically, Mr. Mellon gifted to the Commonwealth the land that now makes up Sky Meadows State Park, nearly 1900 acres with spectacular pastoral landscapes preserved for all time.”
As his colleague Chris Miller, President of PEC observed, “Leading by generous example, Mr. Mellon and his family anchored conservation from the Bull Run Mountains to the Blue Ridge and into the Shenandoah Valley, inspiring others to follow, together with protecting over 1.2 million acres of land in Virginia.” In closing, Yakir stated “A legacy without parallel in the nation. Here in Fauquier, it created dramatic, durable wonders for his neighbors, and their heirs and successors.”