Jeanne Gilchrist Vance, 68, owned racehorses, founded hospice center

December 18, 2003|By Jacques Kelly and Tom Keyser | Jacques Kelly and Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Jeanne Gilchrist Vance, a thoroughbred horse breeder and owner who founded and financed the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson so the terminally ill could spend their final days in a restful setting, died of flu-related pneumonia Sunday at her home in Manalapan, Fla. She was 68.

Miss Vance owned the thoroughbred horse Lemon Drop Kid, an upset winner of the 1999 Belmont Stakes, and resided for much of the year at a Monkton farm she owned.

About a decade ago, she donated $4.75 million for Gilchrist Center, an $8.3 million, 24-bed building that opened in 1996. She gave an additional $1.5 million to its endowment and had earlier funded a cancer-treatment wing at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

"She was a visionary -- and a very generous visionary. We consider her our founding director," said Lori Mulligan, an official of Hospice of Baltimore, which operates the center. "She saw that Baltimore needed a dedicated hospice of the same quality she had seen in Florida."

Known as Jinny, she was born in Grosse Point, Mich. As a teen-ager, she showed saddlebreds and appeared in equestrian events while a student at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Conn.

As a young woman, she became a director of a large ponderosa pine logging and milling operation in Oregon, Gilchrist Timber, founded by her mother's family in the 19th century.

She selected the name Gilchrist for the hospice and placed a piece of ponderosa pine behind its cornerstone. The chapel at the Towson hospice is named for her father, Joseph A. Vance, a Baltimore-born attorney who practiced in Detroit and managed the family's timber, banking and Great Lakes shipping interests.

Shortly after her 1965 marriage to Milton Jenkins Dance Jr., a Maryland thoroughbred horse auctioneer, she moved to Monkton and became interested in owning and breeding thoroughbreds. They established an elite horse breeding operation that blended his keen eye for horses and her passion and fortune. Although the couple divorced, they later reconciled and remarried.

Family members said she devoted hours of her day to the care of her horses. Twice the couple produced yearlings that topped the high-powered sale at Saratoga, N.Y.

In 1971, Mr. Dance became hoarse while working. He received a diagnosis of vocal cord cancer and was successfully treated. After that trouble, she donated the Milton J. Dance Jr. Cancer Center wing at GBMC.

Miss Vance's passion for horses extended throughout her life. Her crowning achievement was winning the Belmont with Lemon Drop Kid.

When she and Mr. Dance remarried in 1994, they concentrated on buying yearlings at auction and turning them over to Scotty Schulhofer, the Hall of Fame trainer in New York. In 1997, they paid $200,000 for the yearling they named Lemon Drop Kid. He earned $3.2 million and became the only horse to win these five prestigious New York stakes: the Futurity when he was 2, the Belmont and Travers when he was 3, and the Whitney and Woodward when he was 4.

Lemon Drop Kid won the Eclipse award as North America's top older horse in 2000. Upon his retirement, the couple sold him for $30 million to a leading Kentucky farm, where he breeds mares for a fee of $50,000. Family members said Miss Vance hung his halter in her Florida bedroom.

"We love the pageantry of this sport and the courage of these animals," she said after winning the Belmont. "It's a wonderful way of life, and a day like this is worth a lifetime of waiting."

About a decade ago, after seeing the good that a Florida hospice did, she gave the $4.75 million for Gilchrist. She tailored her schedule around the hospice's board meetings and attended one last week.

"From day one she was involved 110 percent. She set high standards and had high expectations. She was compassionate in a very private way. She had a commanding, quiet presence," said Catherine J. Boyne, president of Hospice of Baltimore, a subsidiary of GBMC. "She was dedicated to this cause because she realized the benefit it could provide in terms of end-of-life care.

"I was always amazed at how she would not interfere with operations," Ms. Boyne said. "She was interested in results and touching people's lives. The staff knew she was behind the scenes supporting us. She was a person of few words, very direct, but when she spoke, you listened."

Her husband died last year.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Jan. 3 at Chestnut Grove Presbyterian Church, 3701 Sweet Air Road, Phoenix.

She is survived by two sons, Mark G. Smith of Bradenton, Fla., and Robert K. Smith of Tequesta, Fla.; four stepdaughters, Deetzie Walker of Monkton, Macey Kimsey of Harrisonburg, Va., Laura Alexander of Bel Air and Sara Parr of Towson; and 11 grandchildren. Her earlier marriage to H. Keith Smith ended in divorce.

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