Robert Joseph “Bobby Joe” Pillion died at home in Millwood, Virginia on January 12, 2014. He was seventy-nine.
“I just love to hunt,” he often said.
That’s how he concluded just about every foxhunting conversation we had. I can see him saying it, with a shake of his head and a thoughtful smile.
Bobby Joe was one of the most beautiful horsemen I have ever seen crossing the country. He whipped-in to the Blue Ridge Hunt for more than thirty years, riding nimble and athletic Thoroughbreds of such a uniform type that people trying to describe any new horse of that sort would simply say, “That’s a Bobby Joe horse.” In fact, you never knew which horse he was riding because they all went the same for him.
Bobby Joe was chosen to be a judge for both the 1989 and the 1991 highly publicized foxhound matches between the Piedmont and the Midland packs, both held in the Piedmont country. The matches were fashioned as a modern replay of the Great English-American Foxhound Match of 1905 and held in the same country. Sporting journalists came from England as well as the U.S. to cover the matches.
The scarlet-clad men in the 1991 photo—judges and huntsmen—were all Masters of Foxhounds except Bobby Joe. He was chosen because of his renown as a foxhunter and horseman.
Bobby Joe was also a familiar face at the Upperville Colt and Horse Show where he served as ringmaster for forty years. He was a soft-spoken and kind man—a gentleman—who I never heard utter an unkind word about anyone. His passing is a great loss to Virginia’s horse community and especially to the members and friends of the Blue Ridge Hunt.
A memorial service was held at 4:00 P.M., Friday, January 17, 2014 at Long Branch Plantation, Millwood. As part of the service, Bobby Joe's life with horses and hounds was celebrated with the telling of stories by a few of his longtime friends. It was also celebrated with stories by three children from his wife Iona's stable. Their poise, humor, composure, and sincerity were unforgettable. Here's what thirteen-year-old Ellie Williams had to say:
"I think I can speak for all of us when I say that Mr. Pillion will be sorely missed, and it is with great reverence that I recall the memories of staying at The Pillion's home and seeing Mr. Pillion's unfading smile. Over the past few days I have been reminiscingquite a lot about those cherished memories. I remember sitting around the dining room table and having Mr. and Mrs. Pillion tell stories about foxhunting, and sharing their many experiences in horse world, and even though Mrs. Pillion calls me motor mouth at these times I preferred to just listen. Mr. Pillion would recount exciting stories of hunting his old thoroughbreds, like the day he hunted all the way to the railroad tracks in Delaplane and had to call for a horse van to come get them, and Mrs. Pillion would describe hunting Farnley ponies. I hold the memories of horses and hounds retold around the dining room table close to my heart and always will.
"As one of The Clay Hill [Stables] children I also saw Mr. Pillion quite frequently at the barn. Whenever he came Mrs. Pillion would smile, even if she was in the middle of telling me how feeble and useless I was. You would hear the crunching of tires on gravel and if it was a blue jeep with a lucky horseshoe driving up Mrs. Pillion, no matter how angry would smile ever so slightly. Thinking of Mr. Pillion evokes memories of me saying, “Hi, Mr. Pillion” and hearing his unfailing response, “How you doin’ young lady?" Mr. Pillion was never doleful or dejected; in fact he always seemed to be on the other end of the spectrum, always upbeat and positive. Losing his cheerful attitude and presence is hard but knowing he is in a better place brings comfort, and we will all see him again one day. From my point of view Mr. Pillion's life was full of friends, horses, and love, which is what we all hope will fill our lives too. I am sad that he is gone, not for him because he is in heaven, but for those whose lives will contain a gaping hole in their heart where Mr. Pillion used to be."
Amen. Memorial contributions may be made to Blue Ridge Hospice, 333 W. Cork St., Winchester, VA 22601.
Click for more details in Bobby Joe’s published obituary.
Posted January 14, 2014
Updated January 21, 2014