Adelaide Close Riggs, one of the great supporters of Maryland's thoroughbred horse breeding and racing industry, rode until the age of 77, when her favorite pony had to be put down and she decided she was too old to break in a new one.
Mrs. Riggs died Dec. 31 from complications of pneumonia at Happy Retreat, her 540-acre farm near the Howard County village of Daisy between West Friendship and Lisbon. She was 90.
"She was certainly one of the grandes dames of Maryland racing and an absolutely wonderful sportswoman," said Snowden Carter, retired editor of Maryland Horse magazine. "She was not only highly respected but gracious and kind even though being somewhat reserved. She really was from a different era."
Added Dr. Michael Cavey, Mrs. Riggs' farm manager, adviser and partner in her thoroughbred breeding activities: "She is one of a dying breed in thoroughbred racing who did it purely for the sport."
A woman of classic tastes who favored tailored tweeds with matching hats, the former Adelaide Brevoort Close was born in 1908 in Greenwich, Conn., the daughter of Edward Bennett Close, a New York attorney, and Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune.
Her mother, who was known for her wealth, hospitality and philanthropy, passed on to her daughter an innate shrewdness and business sense.
Some of Mrs. Riggs' well-remembered stakes winners over the years included St. Francis, McCarthy Moore, Westerlands, Wild Zone and Woods of Windsor, named after the European perfume regularly sent to her by a sister living in Paris.
Raised in Connecticut and Long Island, Mrs. Riggs grew up surrounded by the racing crowd and was educated at Nightingale-Bamford School in New York City. She was given her first horse by Col. E.R. Bradley and began riding as a teen-ager. She and her sisters were forced to ride side-saddle, which Mrs. Riggs despised, because their mother had once been dragged by a horse.
Colonel Bradley, a noted sportsman of the 1920s, '30s and '40s who bred and owned thoroughbreds, was known as the proprietor of Bradley's, the famous Palm Beach, Fla., gambling casino that was described as being one of the "swankiest in the world" in newspaper stories of the time.
Married to her first husband, Thomas Wells "Tim" Durant, in the 1920s, Mrs. Riggs moved to Harford County, attracted by the fox hunting there. She had been a licensed thoroughbred owner since 1929.
After a divorce, she married Merrall MacNeille, for many years a steward at Maryland race tracks. After they divorced, she married Augustus "Gus" Riggs IV in 1948, and the couple moved to Happy Retreat, an estate that dates to the late 18th century. It was at Happy Retreat that the Riggses expanded their operations and raised hunters and jumpers as well as horses that raced on the flat. Mr. Riggs died in 1975.
Mrs. Riggs, who tended toward modesty and generally avoided publicity, told Maryland Horse in a 1992 interview: "The last time I talked to a reporter was in 1934. And he got it all wrong."
In addition to her equine interests, Mrs. Riggs was also known for her breeding and showing of Scottish terriers. She later became an all-breed judge licensed by the American Kennel Club, judging in the United States, England, Scotland, Canada and Bermuda.
She judged the best of show each year at the Westminster Kennel Club Show at Madison Square Garden, where she was the first woman to judge a terrier group. In England, she judged Britain's most notable dog show, Crufts.
Her niece is Glenn Close, the Academy Award-winning actress who sang the "Lord's Prayer" Tuesday at funeral services held at St. Andrew Episcopal Church in Glenwood. A half-sister, Hollywood actress Dina Merrill, lives in New York.
Mrs. Riggs was actively involved in charitable organizations, with a quiet, behind-the-scenes philanthropy.
"She gave to soup kitchens, halfway houses, Planned Parenthood and was one of the early supporters of the Seeing Eye Foundation of America. It was all done without any recognition expected or desired," said Dr. Cavey.
After her mother's death in 1973, Mrs. Riggs became president of the Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation, which operates Hillwood Museum and Garden on the site of Mrs. Post's former Chevy Chase estate. The home is noted for its collection of Russian-French art and its thousands of azaleas, trees and plants.
She was a member of the Maryland Jockey Club, Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, Metropolitan Club of Washington, Chevy Chase Club, Daughters of the American Revolution and the Colonial Dames of America.
Mrs. Riggs is survived by three daughters, Marjorie Durant Waller of Santa Monica, Calif., Ellen MacNeille Charles of Washington, and Melissa MacNeille Cantacuzene of Aldie, Va.; a sister, Eleanor Close Barzin of Paris; two half-brothers, Edward Bennett Close Jr. of Littleton, Colo., and Dr. William T. Close of Big Piney, Wyo.; her half-sister, Dina Merrill; 11 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.
Sun library researcher Dee Lyon contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 1/07/99