Betty Shea Miller, 90, ran thoroughbred horse farm

September 15, 2006|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Betty Shea Miller, a well-known figure in thoroughbred racing for the past 50 years who formerly owned and managed Merryland Farm in Hydes, died in her sleep Tuesday at the Mercy Ridge retirement community in Timonium. She was 90.

Born Elizabeth Winfield in Darien, Conn., she earned a marketing degree from New York University and was a buyer for Lord & Taylor and other department stores. She moved to Maryland in 1940 with her husband, Edward T. Bedford III, a Glenn L. Martin Co. engineer.

In 1949, after a divorce, she married Danny Shea, a thoroughbred trainer and show rider who owned Merryland Farm. She soon found herself helping to run the place, cooking in its farm kitchen on weekends or hosting parties.

The Sheas' farm had numerous thoroughbred owners who paid to have their horses trained, bred or quartered there.

"It was her sense of humor and love of life that attracted people to her," said a son, Edward T. Bedford of Towson. "She was as comfortable with the Alfred Vanderbilts and the Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons as she was with the hot walkers and stable hands. She loved the company of men and was a confidante to many women. She was never afraid to speak her mind."

"She was the socialite den mother to Maryland racing," said Ross Peddicord, who covered the sport for The Evening Sun. "In the winter, she wore a lovely mink coat. She was like a fictional character who belonged in a novel about Maryland."

Friends recalled that Mrs. Miller had a farm kitchen built with an L-shaped counter where she fed the farm crew in two sittings on days when the regular cook was off.

"It was, indeed, a merry place, and Betty was its heart and soul. She prided herself on how she dealt on such a warm and personal basis with her clients," said Lucy Acton, editor of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine.

"Then, in one disastrous turn, Merryland lost much of its merriment: Mr. Shea died from a heart attack one week before Christmas in 1959," said to a 1991 magazine profile published in Maryland Horse. "Mr. Shea's will dictated that the farm be sold, not carried on by his widow."

In 1962, she married Thomas W. Miller, the Bowie Race Course treasurer. He died less than a year later.

Also in 1962, Barbara Obre, who was an heir to the Guggenheim fortune, and her son, Michael Wettach, bought Merryland and retained Mrs. Miller as its manager. Mrs. Miller kept 24 acres for herself and built a nearby home, Merry Hill, which overlooked Merryland.

"A lot of my work was in public relations, helping to make the farm known and keep the customers happy. ... For years I was the lady on the other end of the phone," she said in the 1991 article.

She also became an advocate for the disabled after the birth of a disabled son, William W. Shea. He resides at the state's Rosewood Center, where Mrs. Miller was a longtime volunteer.

She also regularly ran tours of the farm for city children who had never seen horses in a country setting, and she staged annual tours for blind children.

Mrs. Miller served for many years as secretary-treasurer of the Maryland Horsebreeders Association and was the recipient of racing's Tesio and Humphrey Finney awards for lifetime contributions.

In 2001 Merryland Farm was sold to Country Life Farm and remains an active thoroughbred operation.

At her death Mrs. Miller retained an ownership in horses and visited Merryland in her wheelchair shortly before her death.

A celebration of her life will be will be held at 3 p.m. Monday at Merryland Farm, on Bottom Road.

In addition to her two sons, survivors include a daughter, Patricia B. Gaede of Cincinnati, and three grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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