Elizabeth Lemmon had kennel, ran baseball team

January 31, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Elizabeth H. Lemmon, who operated a kennel, managed a semipro baseball team and counted some of the nation's most famous literary figures as close friends, died Dec. 30 at Heritage Nursing Home in Leesburg, Va., of complications from a broken hip. She was 100.

She was a member of a distinguished Maryland and Virginia family. One of her ancestors, Richard Lemmon, was captain of a Baltimore clipper that sailed from Baltimore around Cape Horn and to Nanking, China, on a voyage that lasted from 1843 to 1845.

Miss Lemmon was reared on West Lanvale Street in Bolton Hill. Her father was J. Southgate Lemmon, a lawyer. She attended Madame LaFaye's School and graduated from the Bryn Mawr School in 1911, the year she made her debut at the Bachelors Cotillon.

She continued her education at the Peabody Institute, where she studied dance, music and voice. After the death of her father in 1915, she moved with her mother to Welbourne, the family summer home near Middleburg, Va., and taught music and dance at the Foxcroft School.

It was during a 1922 visit to her sister in Plainfield, N.J., that she was introduced to Maxwell Evarts Perkins, the Charles Scribners & Sons editor who was the literary midwife of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe.

In 1978, A. Scott Berg, in his book "Max Perkins: Editor of Genius," revealed that the editor had been the great love of Miss Lemmon's life. For 25 years, until Mr. Perkins' death in 1947, the two had conducted "a passionate love affair by mail," according to Merry Rogers, a grandniece. Mrs. Rogers said Miss Lemmon kept the letters in a shoe box.

Mr. Berg described the relationship as "a great 19th-century romance and a totally platonic affair."

Wolfe and Fitzgerald often visited Miss Lemmon at Church House, the former slave church at Welbourne. She had converted the building into a residence and lived there until she moved to the nursing home in 1991.

"I remember in 1934 her taking us to visit Zelda Fitzgerald at Sheppard-Pratt," recalled her nephew David Roszel of Bolton Hill, "and then going to lunch at Marconi's with Scotty, [the Fitzgeralds'] daughter, and then taking us to see a Shirley Temple movie."

The other passions in Miss Lemmon's life were opera and baseball.

"She refused to answer the phone during the Saturday afternoon weekly broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera," recalled her nephew, "and when people complained about her not answering the phone, she said if she lived in New York, they wouldn't be able to get her either because she'd be at the Met."

In 1921, she became one of the first women to manage a semipro baseball team. The Upperville, Va., baseball team played in Loudon and Fauquier counties in Northern Virginia. She was a devoted fan of the Washington Senators and Baltimore Orioles.

She raised and sold champion boxer dogs. Her letterhead stated: "My dogs are raised like you wish your friends' children were."

During World War II, she knitted throws for wounded servicemen who were recovering in Washington-area hospitals. She continued her knitting into her 90s.

A memorial service is being planned.

Other survivors include a niece, Mayo Bryan of Monkton; and a grandnephew, Richard J. Roszel of Baltimore.

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