Montgomery Harrison Wadsworth Ritchie


Remarks by Stuart Symington, Jr. at

Interment Ceremony, Temple Hill Cemetery

Genesco, NY


142 years ago, in the summer of 1857, Cornelia Wadsworth, daughter of James S., the general-to-be, married Montgomery Ritchie of Boston.  They had a son named Jack.  When the Civil War broke out, Ritchie served with distinction as an officer in the Union Army.   He died in 1864.   In 1869, Cornelia remarried, to an Anglo-Irish grandee named John Adair.   They founded the great J.A. Ranch, one of the biggest outfits in Texas, in 1876.  It had 1,350,000 acres, and ran 100,000 head of cattle.  To this day, it is some 20 miles from the front gate to the front door.

Cornelia spent much time in England.  Her son, Jack, was brought up there.   He married, and had two sons, Montie, whom we honor today, and Dick.  Montie was born on December 2, 1910.  He grew up as an English aristocrat and graduated from Cambridge in 1931, where he read history and languages.

He was an adventuresome guy.

In college, he belonged to a group called the Night Climbers.   For a lark, they undertook to climb at night to the top of every gothic building on campus.  Somebody wrote a book about their exploits, and Montie kept a copy in his library.

While at Cambridge, Montie and some friends vied to see who could drive from Cambridge to Piccadilly Circus, London, in the shortest time.  Starting in the middle of the night, when there was little traffic, the competitors drove their sports cars as fast as they could.  Later, Montie dryly remarked that the competition ended when a rich Brazilian ran over a pedestrain.

Montie and his brother Dick returned to their American roots in the early 1930's.  They were a handsome pair, dark-haired, strong featured, well dressed.  They moved around in the New York City party circuit with easy assurance.  Dick was fun-loving, as handsome as any movie hero.  He died tragically of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heater on a yacht in a Long Island Harbor.  He is buried right here, in this cemetery, where his brother now joins him.

But anyone who might have thought Montie tied to the lifestyle of an Evelyn Waugh novel would have been badly mistaken.

In 1935, Montie's family asked him to take over management of the J.A. Ranch.  Unfazed, he did so, became a top hand, as good as any cowboy in the west, and he ran the ranch for some 60 years.

Montie learned to fly before World War II.  During the war, he served in the Naval Air Service as a ferry pilot.  He met and married Ninia's mother, Betty, during the war.  She was a gracious, lovely person.  I remember well a visit that my wife Janey and I made to see her in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts.  She had a serene, queenly charm that made you think of royalty.  She died young of cancer, another tragedy for Montie.

Fortunately, Montie was long on fiber.  In fact, he was tough as a boot.  His principal characteristics were iron will, devotion to the land and the animals and crops on it, and to his family.  These were the very qualities that distinguished his Wadsworth ancestor, the General.  Along with them came others:  the capacity to live and enjoy life to the fullest, and to cultivate a truly extraordinary array of artistic talents.

So Montie developed an amazing accent that combined the flavors of Cambridge and West Texas.  He was an astute businessman, proud that the J.A. could survive without oil wells.  He rode and got throwed, skied at Aspen, piloted his Twin Beech, fished all over the world and might have been mistaken for just a businessman-sportsman-patriot, without more.

But Montie was much more than that.  He was an esthete, a connoisseur and an artist.  His art collection, ranging from Constable to Degas, is now scattered.  It was awesome to see it at headquarters, the ranch house on the J.A.  Most of the works were easily recognizable.   But the paintings over the fireplaces were puzzlers, hard to identify.  Once, I asked Montie about them.  He chuckled and said that he put them over the fireplaces on purpose, as a little test for the visitors who thought they knew all about art.  The painting I remembered best is a very impressionistic, broad-brushed Constable, which features a mass of tumbling clouds.

Montie was an excellent photographer.  I treasure a copy, made for me by Harry Wadsworth, of a picture Montie took of a cowboy on a bucking bronco.  It evokes all the beauty and rigor of life on a cattle ranch.  Montie also painted, in water colors and oils.

Montie's connoisseurship strongly contrasted with the prevailing austere lifestyle of Panhandle Texas.  He lived in two worlds all his life.  Once I saw him open a package mailed from his London tailor.  Montie held up a new sport coat and said gleefully, "fresh from Savile Row."  Another time, I asked him why he had a hangar for his airplane on the ranch.  He quietly responded, "there are times I have to get out of Texas."

In one respect, Montie differed from his ancestor, the General.  The General was a flaming liberal.  I would have to classify Montie as a Tory.  Visiting Washington, he asked my mother about an appropriate boarding school for Ninia.  Mother suggested Foxcroft.  Montie said, "Now, Eve, that's not one of those places where they get ideas, is it?"

In due course, Montie became the patriarch of our family.  All of us who are related to him can be proud of what he did with his life, proud of his devotion to duty and running the family business for the benefit of his family, proud of his war-time service to his country and proud that a family member exhibited so much artistic talent.

My only regret today is that I don't believe Montie ever took time to write his memoirs.  One of the joys of English literature is to read the memoirs of Englishmen of distinction.  Montie's natural inclination not to talk at length, plus Texas taciturnity, have deprived us of the opportunity to know him better.

Several years ago, my friend Fitz Gordon and I, greenhorns both, offered our services to Montie as cowboys.  He said, "Where are your saddles?"  Instead of punching cattle, we baled Johnson grass, a weed in Arizona, but fodder in Texas.  It was hot as hell and we were very dry at day's end.  Back at headquarters, Montie said we could have one drink each, and that was all.  I never wanted a second daiquiri more in my life.   As I said, he was tough as a boot.

But, at least, Montie offered us one and in that spirit of hospitality, and thanks to the generosity of Toby Strong and Susan Kelly, we can adjourn to Hartford House today, to drink a toast to Montie's memory.

God bless him.