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Huntsmen Pay Homage To One of Their Own.
700 at Service for Beloved Master Killed in Accident

By Jennifer Ordonez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 13, 1998; Page V01

Article Photographs

In scarlet coats and high black boots, carrying brass horns and wearing formal four-quarter scarves, the masters of most of Northern Virginia's foxhunts gathered in Upperville on Thursday, but somber faces revealed thoughts other than sport.

The huntsmen had turned out to bury one of their own -- Erskine Bedford,joint master of foxhounds for Piedmont Hunt, who was fatally injured last Sunday while fox-hunting. Bedford was remembered Thursday in a funeral service that drew an estimated 700 people to Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville to pay respects to a man whose passion for fox-hunting, friends said, was second only to his love of the land.

Parked cars lined both sides of Route 50, Upperville's main thoroughfare, for about a mile. A half-hour before the service was to begin, the pews were filled to capacity, and a crowd of mourners stood outside to pay respects. It was a reunion, of sorts, of Virginia horsemen.

"Everyone connected with horses and fox-hunting is here," said Bruce Miller, a friend of Bedford's who traveled from Pennsylvania with six other hunt enthusiasts for the funeral. "He was loved by a lot of people."

Bedford, 65, a farmer and stockbroker, died of head injuries after his horse apparently suffered a heart attack, collapsing underneath him and throwing the horseman face first onto the ground. He died the next day at Washington Hospital Center.

News of the tragedy traveled fast through the equestrian community in Fauquier and Loudoun counties and elsewhere.

Bedford's death caused some horse enthusiasts Thursday to reflect on the potential perils of the sport.

Bay Cockburn, the joint master and huntsman of Loudoun Hunt West, was paralyzed in April when he hit a tree while riding. Cockburn, 41, attended the funeral in formal hunt attire.

After Cockburn's injury, some fox hunters had contemplated the fragility of life, human and equine. It gave those such as Bedford, who seem to have the sport in their blood, little pause, said Cricket Whitner, his daughter. Just a month before his death, Bedford had been recovering from a broken shoulder, an injury he received while riding.

"He thought that when your number is up, your number is up," Whitner said. "We all know that at any time your horse could get spooked or flipover, and that's all."

Bedford, who owned Old Welborne, a 380-acre estate in Bluemont, just north of the Loudoun County line, had fox-hunting roots. Both of his parents were masters of a hunt in Maryland, and he hunted frequently as a child, Cricket Whitner said.

When he bought his estate in 1961, Bedford, who received a bachelor'sdegree in agriculture from Cornell University, seemed more interested in farming. But neighboring fox hunters soon changed that.

"The reason we got him fox-hunting was to stop his chain saw from running," recalled Albert Poe, a retired huntsman for Piedmont Hunt."Erskine was cutting wood, which is a no-no if you're fox-hunting because you can't hear the fox, and the master of the hunt in this area rode up and said, 'Erskine, why aren't you hunting?' and for the next 25 years, she loaned him a horse."

By the late 1970s, Bedford was leading the hunt, chasing hounds that chase foxes three times a week. But he spent as much time walking his acres and tending to the farm duties he loved and going to his job as a stockbroker, most recently at Scott & Stringfellow Inc. in Warrenton.

"His land -- he knew about it, he studied it, he wasted his life on it," said Joseph Rogers, master of Loudoun Hunt West, half joking. "He gave more of himself to the land than he did to making money. There's no way to do him justice."

Bedford's skills as a hunt master and generosity as a leader were well known, friends said. Although some masters would bristle at the thought of letting less-experienced horsemen lead the hunt, he often would let others take the lead. He encouraged young people to master the sport.

"He reveled in his joys, made fun of the hard times," Shelby Bonnie, a family friend, said during the memorial service. "He fancied himself a gentleman farmer, but he was also a historian, a conservationist,businessman, ambassador, partner."

Land -- and preserving it as open space -- was a priority for Bedford, friends said. He could talk for hours about farming techniques. He took joy in clearing trails of sticks and stones, and he noticed things on the ground that others seemed to walk right over, said those who knew him.

In a way, he had come home Thursday, his family said. If her father's time was up, Cricket Whitner said, there was no more fitting way for him to go-- on a horse doing what he loved.

"It's hard for us to say, because you don't want him gone," she said. "But could Dad ever have written a better storybook ending?"

Her husband, Jim, added, "The horse and rider just went out in a blaze of glory."

After the service, hundreds of people followed the hearse to Bedford's estate. A plot had been dug, next to the house he liked on the land he loved.

Casket in place, a master blew a long note from a gold brass horn. Outcame as many as 30 foxhounds, led by a huntsman and three whippers-in on horses. "They brought the hounds to pay last respects to Erskine," JimWhitner said. "It's like so his spirit could hear them one more time."

Few dry eyes remained as the crowd silently watched four horses and riders gallop away, over gray rolling hills, following yelping hounds in search of a fox.

Erskine Bedford is survived by a brother, Dean Bedford; a sister, Daphne Dennehy; daughters Lily Raines, Cricket Whitner and Daphne Wooten; and a son, Dean Bedford; four grandchildren; and his companion, Karen Ewbank.

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The Washington Post Company