By Jay Young, president Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club; Isabel Kurek photo
This morning, family, friends and the entire Maryland equestrian community formally mourned the loss of Tom Voss at his funeral service at St. James Church in Monkton.
There is a palpable sense of shock over Tom’s sudden death. The impact Tom had on steeplechase racing and foxhunting in America and especially upon the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club is extraordinary. Tom undertook the role of steward of the family legacy with great accomplishment. Joseph H. Voss, Tom’s great-uncle was one of the original organizers of the Elkridge Foxhunting Club dating back to 1878. The merger of the Elkridge and the Harford Hunts took place in 1934 when the Elkridge joined the Harford at our present location in Monkton. For 52 of the 80 years since that time, a Voss family member has been a Joint Master of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club. Tom’s grandfather, Edward S. Voss served for 31 years and Tom for 21 years.
Tom’s grandparents were among the three pioneer families of the preservation movement in My Lady’s Manor. They donated a perpetual preservation easement over the 235-acre Atlanta Hall Farm in 1982. Tom assumed the mantle of preservation and together with brother, Jack, placed perpetual preservation easements on the balance of the property so that almost 1,000 acres would be preserved in perpetuity. As a result of these early and continuing efforts, over 25,000 acres have been preserved in perpetuity on My Lady’s Manor and immediate surrounding areas.
Tom had a special passion for Atlanta Hall Farm and generously shared it with the community for riding, foxhunting, steeplechase racing, dog trials and even polo. He preserved another tradition of the countryside by hosting the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point races for decades. In harsh weather, he even opened the indoor racetrack to other trainers when he could have understandably used that unique facility to his own advantage.
Tom chose to train racehorses as his profession. He had his own strategies, which were not always in keeping with the conventions of the sport. In the early days when it was thought that race horses (particularly flat horses) should be stabled at the race track, Tom always trained his horses from the farm and utilized the natural topography of Atlanta Hall Farm and the gallops at the Hunt Club to condition his charges. He also utilized foxhunting as one of his training strategies. Many trainers would fear the risk of injury to a valuable racehorse and not take the chance. Tom believed that there was no better training than foxhunting. The Elkridge-Harford field enjoyed an added dimension to our foxhunting experience when Tom would join us with a string of race horses and steeplechase jockeys for the day’s hunt. It was a special thrill to foxhunt with Hunt Cup winners such as Florida Law and Welter Weight. It is not often that we weekend warriors get to jump a fence in stride with a Hunt Cup winner.
Tom’s racing strategies proved to be very successful. He became one of the most prominent steeplechase trainers in the country, landing the title of National Steeplechase Association Trainer of the Year five times. He was also Maryland Steeplechase Trainer of the year five times. He had a substantial impact on the sport. There are few trainers who enjoy success at both steeplechase racing and flat racing. Tom was one of them. He trained such flat track superstars as “John’s Call”, who won many Grade 1 stakes races with earnings of over 1.5 million dollars.
Tom was also passionate about giving back to the sport as a mentor of amateur jockeys. One of his most successful mentees, Jonathan Kiser, died at the age of 22 in a freak swing accident. Tom delivered the eulogy at Jonathan’s funeral and then was instrumental in establishing and supporting the Jonathan Kiser Scholarship through the Governor’s Cup series of the Maryland Steeplechase Association. The Kiser Scholarship rewards scholarship, horsemanship and promise in equestrian endeavors. The winner was rewarded by spending a week under Tom’s tutelage, learning the ropes from one of the best. Upon learning of his death, one of the Kiser recipients posted on Facebook: “When I was awarded the Jonathan Kiser Memorial Scholarship . . . I had the privilege to work and ride for Mr. Tom Voss. I learned more from him about training in that one week than I had in my previous ten total years of riding. I still use things he taught me then when exercising horses now, whether they’re racers or eventers . . . Thank you Mr. Voss for everything. You will always be remembered.”
As a Master of Fox Hounds, Tom was always a beautiful rider, always well mounted and game. His racing obligations kept him from hunting much on the weekends during the racing season, but he was always there when called upon and could be counted on for great sport. As an EHHC Board member, Tom always kept up with what was going on and could always be relied upon for sage advice. He quickly stepped up to the plate whenever the magnitude of the issue warranted his involvement. He was like our “Special Forces” back-up.
Shock and a profound sense of loss best describe the feelings of friends and family following Tom’s death. For those of us who saw or spoke with him in the days preceding his death, the concept that someone can be gone from this earth so quickly is something that is difficult to comprehend. There is no doubt that Tom was deprived of the longevity of life. However, as it is said, the most important thing is not how many years in one’s life, but how much life in one’s years. There was a lot of life in Tom’s years. He rose to national prominence in his chosen career. He spent his life as the Steward of a magnificent farm. His love and enjoyment of that property was tangible and he shared it with the community. Tom preserved it and supported a preservation movement around it. He was a trusted friend and advisor to many. He served as a mentor to the students of the sport. He shared all of these things enthusiastically with Mimi, his beloved wife of 38 years. He got to walk his daughter Elizabeth down the aisle at a wedding held right on the farm he so enjoyed. He got to experience the birth of his first granddaughter, Genevieve, and his grandson and namesake, Thomas Edward Murray (not that many months ago). Tom’s relationship with Genevieve was a joy to behold. Those of us who had the privilege to watch the look on his face when Genevieve was sitting on the front of his saddle or on his lap, bouncing across the fields in a John Deere Gator caught a glimpse of this special bond. Tom passed quickly and painlessly at home in that special farm he loved so much. It was not as long a life as he and all of us would have liked, but as good a life as anyone could hope for. That does not make the loss any less painful for friends and family. Our sympathies, thoughts and prayers go out to Jen, Mimi, Sam and Elizabeth.
Good Night Master. Rest in Peace.
The Equiery will dedicate the March steeplechase issue to Mr. Voss. If you would like to share your personal memories, photos or thoughts, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.