Page 119 - The Hunt - Spring/Summer 2023
P. 119

                While the human atop the horse is obviously important, Willcox thinks mostly about what’s right for the horse. “He’s
got to enjoy it,” she says.
Willcox describes Ivy Mills Mansion as a “money pit.” It was left
to their son, Mark III, and his wife, Anne, when her husband died. Other family acreage there has been donated to the township as open space. Willcox kept about 50 acres at Tory Hill, which is home to
two donkeys and 14 horses—five are her own. The herd grazes the property freely, using run-in sheds and the indoor arena, unless there’s aJl e s s o n i n p r o g r e s s .
ill Forbes Willcox was on the beach with her mother and sister in Troon, England, when she saw her first pony at age 3. She wasn’t as impressed with the ocean and the seagulls. “It was that pony,” she says. “I’ve still got that in my memory, and I’ll
never forget. It was the way it shook its mane. I can still hear and feel it.”
Willcox’s mother was a podiatrist, and her father worked in petroleum sales. As such, they “galloped around the planet,” living in at least five different locations before Jill turned 3. As she grew older, World War II chased the family in even more directions. The first bomb she remembers landed at the school playground next to a house her family was renting. “Once you’ve heard one bomb, you wake up dreaming of bombs,” says Willcox.
Her family was evacuated to Wales, and Jill was left with a recurring dream of a cockerel sitting on a fence gate, mimicking alarm sounds. At 9 or 10, she was instructed to set up a pile of clothes for an emergency exit. On top was a gas mask. There were underground safety bunkers,
Tory Hill manager Emily Dugan with two students.
buried corrugated iron chambers, and practice runs with sirens blaring. Gym classes featured jumps from a hay barn loft to simulate leaping out of a plane.
A multisport athlete, Willcox left school at 17 without a degree. But she’d gradually acquired experience working on the farms of British elite, managing cows and shearing and dipping sheep.
Th e n c a m e t h e r o u g h J a n u a r y v o y a g e t o t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s o n t h e SS America. Having come more or less full circle, she’s very much at home these days. In winter, she paints at her easel in the living room, surrounded mostly by her acrylics of her family—horses and humans.
For 57 years, her concept of family began with her late husband, who was 18 years her senior. Mark passed in 2013 at the age of 99. “He was worth it,” she says. “That man was too good to let go. I wouldn’t have married anyone else.”
History abounds at Tory Hill. Longtime friend Andrew Wyeth gave the Jill and Mark Willcox a painting as a wedding present. Married in England, they returned to find it on their doorstep. It’s since been sold at Sotheby’s to keep Tory Hill afloat. “It was a wedding present that I loved and looked at for 50 years, but now someone else gets to look at it,” says Willcox, giving her assurance that the auction windfall went into helping needy horses. “I think I’m part healer, part horse.”
Of the two Willcox sons, Billy has passed. There are two granddaughters—Annie, an artist, and Elizabeth, who’s latest fascination is bees and saving the planet. “I used to think that way too,” says Willcox. “Then the war started.”
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