G. Leslie "Les" Grimes, the Green Spring Valley Hounds' huntsman for 35 seasons, died of a heart ailment Monday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Butler resident was 89.
On a fox hunt, Mr. Grimes, astride a horse and dressed in a scarlet coat, would use his distinctive voice and a horn to lead a pack of nearly 40 hounds.
"Tall and slow-talking, with a face scored from all those years outdoors, Mr. Grimes moves with the kind of lanky grace that hounds and horses find reassuring," read a 1973 Evening Sun profile.
Born in Middleburg, Va., he was born into a family familiar with sporting animals. "My father was a horseman, and this was all I ever knew," he said in the 1973 article. His mother raised Norwich terriers. At 17, he began working as a groom, and at 18, he was hunting professionally as a whipper-in, keeping the hounds together. During World War II, Mr. Grimes served in an Army cavalry unit and trained dogs.
When a reporter asked about his history of injuries in his chosen field, Mr. Grimes replied, "They just start at my toes and work to the top of my head."
Mr. Grimes began work at the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club in 1946 and retired in 1981. He ran its kennel and customarily started work with pups in July, training the dogs that had been born the previous spring.
"Road work involves walking on foot with the young hounds in a pack, getting them used to the countryside and other animals," The Evening Sun article said. In August, Mr. Grimes would begin cub hunting - setting the young dogs against young foxes. On these trips, he'd also spot foxes and make mental notes where they lived. The information would serve him for autumn hunts.
"He was an amazing man. He was probably the most respected huntsman of his era," said Andrew Barclay, who succeeded him at Green Spring. "He was a legend in one of the hardest-riding hunt clubs in America."
In 2001, he was named to the Huntsman's Hall of Fame at the Museum of Hounds & Hunting in Morven Park, Va.
"He was a superb horseman in the sense of knowing a good horse and knowing what it took to create a good horse," said Margaret Worrall, who wrote the history of Green Spring Valley Hunt Club. "He wasn't shy about his opinions. I remember him talking about how there could be hounds who were great in the show ring who weren't much when you got them in the field."
In later life, Mr. Grimes was a presence at Shawan Downs events in northern Baltimore County and the annual Grand National Steeplechase held each April.
"The week prior to the races, you could always count on Les to be there ready to pitch in," said Danielle Brewster Oster, a friend. "Animals loved him. He had a special gift to work and communicate with them."
Mr. Grimes wanted children to develop a love of horses - and all animals, family members said. The G. Leslie Grimes Stick Pony Race is held every year at Shawan Downs for children up to 7 years old.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Green Spring Valley Hounds, 13920 Mantua Mill Road.
His wife of nearly 60 years, the former Mabel Kirby, died in 2000. Survivors include a daughter, Sara "Missy" Johnston of Wye Mills; six grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.