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Erskine Lott Bedford, MFH (1933 - 1998)
By Cricket Whitner
Covertside : Masters of Foxhounds Association (March, 1999)

In December, the hunting world lost the man referred to by many as "the best Field Master in America," Erskine Bedford, MFH of the Piedmont Fox Hounds (VA). To me, he was "Dad."

Gerry Newman, longtime honorary whipper-in for Piedmont, comforted me with a thought that has stuck in my mind and helps to make his death easier to understand. Gerry felt that December 6th seemed predestined, as if it had been written just for Erskine: a perfect bright day with a bit of a chill, a fox that struck right from the meet like a bolt, a run like no other with hounds flying in full cry And that Dad went to heaven with his horse was only fitting.

Dad came from a long line of not only foxhunters, but true horsemen. His mother and father, Louise and Dean Bedford, were renowned sportsmen, having helped bring the Pony Club over from England to establish the United States Pony Club. He was exposed to foxhunting and beagling at an early age. Dean Bedford started the Pemberton Beagles, a private pack, and was a Joint-Master of the Harford Hunt in the 1930s. Both parents were Joint-Masters of the merged Elkridge-Harford Hunt after the war.

Dad became Joint-Master of Piedmont in 1979, encouraged by a woman whom he held as his mentor Mrs. A.C. (Theodora) Randolph. Mrs. Randolph was MFH of the Piedmont from 1954 until her death in 1996. The "Kingfish," as he affectionately called her, helped to give him the confi-dence to go forward as a Field Master and the drive to want to perfect the art of leading the field.

Many books and articles on huntsmen have depicted the art of breeding and hunting hounds, but I do not know anyone who achieved such a level of understanding as Dad on how to "lead a field." He had an incredible knack for juggling both the entertainment side of foxhunting for the fieldmembers and the strategic side - the true reason for being there - for the huntsman, staff and hounds. It was through listening to him speak and reading interviews that I, like most others, began to realize the depth of his thinking while out in the field. See Covertside, September 1996, "Leading the Field: Know Your Country and Make It Fun" by Erskine Bedford, MFH.] While most of us were wrestling with our mounts and hoping to be at the front to catch the best view; he was always three steps ahead of us. He was calculating the covert the hounds were drawing, the scent and wind and where huntsman and staff were moving.

From there, he would determine his distance, speed, and in which direction he might take us, knowing if a gate or a panel was ahead, and noting who was nearby to help if help were needed. And he would retain in his mind, like a computer, every detail of the day, each covert, each field, each panel. Many thousands of minutes have I sat on the phone listening to him recount a day I had missed, never admitting to him that he had lost me by the tenth jump.

I wish I had asked him a thousand more questions. For instance, I wish he'd explained in more detail his ideas that taking a field was like driving an extra long tractor trailer, or how he would place his field on a hillside so that he was below with the field higher to see hounds work, or how he asked his members at the front to mind his flanks so he could turn quickly, and lots, lots more.

Yet he covered his hidden intensity with his wonderful smile, mischievous blue eyes and constant joking. When called to the front, you would worry about what kind of a hard time you were going to get from him. I remember a joint meet with Green Spring Valley We were coming to a place which is a true favorite of mine across one of Mr. Mellon's Rokeby Farm driveways with stacked 3'6" chestnut rail fences on either side. I was thrilled as my little hunter cleared them well, and especially as I had jumped head-to-head with Jack Fisher - Mr. Hunt Cup / Gold Cup himself - who did not have such a good flight over these obstacles. Dad summoned me to the front to ask quietly who had made all the racket. As mischievous as he, I told him it was none other than Mr. Fisher. He asked me to send Jack to the front only so he could "have fun with him," loudly thanking him for com-ing down for the day but could he please respect Mr. Mellon's fences?

I do not envy those who must step into his place now; because I can better appreciate how big his role was to the whole work-ings of the Hunt. I know if he were able to tell us, he would encourage all future Field Masters to always clear your own country and your own trails. It's the only way to get to know it." I know he would never want me to dwell on his absence. He would tell me to concentrate and learn where I am at all times in the field, be gracious to everyone and be sure to have fun.... And then come back to his grave and tell him exactly where we went, field by field, panel by panel.