IN MEMORIAM: LILLIAN OLIVER
1922 - 2008
Many people thought of Lillian Oliver as “a piece of work!” In fact, I also thought she was a piece of work – an extraordinary piece of work. Lillian was endowed with boundless energy, unwavering conviction, a sense of purpose, and unbridled motivation. She had an overwhelming personality and a phenomenal sense of humor and, if Lillian had a goal, WATCH OUT. Of all her assets, however, and probably most important, she also possessed a heart of gold and a warmth that most can only imagine.
When I first met Lillian, I was in my mid-twenties. Since I’m sixty-two now, you can do the math. Suffice it to say, I knew her a long time. Anyone meeting her for the first time immediately felt the openness and warmth with which she greeted any stranger. She had an uncanny ability to accept the faults of others because she always recognized their frailties and sympathized with their weaknesses. At the time of our meeting, I was a beginner in dressage working under the tutelage of her daughter, Linda. It wasn’t long before I understood Lillian’s love of the sport. How often do I remember her leaning out of her kitchen window to bellowing across the field to correct something or add a bit of advice! “Too quick, not enough angle, he’s not on the bit, sit up, sit back, sit down!!” Whatever it was, she was more often than not, correct. We often joked that sometime around midnight Lillian would don a miner’s hat, turn on the light and practice her dressage when no one was watching!
Lillian’s support of the sport is something with which most people are not familiar. VADA was the sole idea of Lillian’s because she felt that the state of Virginia was important and big enough to support its own association. VADA was started one day in Lillian’s living room upon her idea with Lillian, myself, and Anne Layton in attendance. From that point until I saw her a few years ago at a show at Morven Park at the age of 83, she continued to work on and support dressage in one way or another. Lillian was also somewhat responsible for a number of other advances in the sport. For instance, at the inception of the United States Dressage Federation, she was often on the phone with its founder, Lowell Boomer, offering assistance as best she could. It was also her idea and is evidenced by letters to the American Horse Shows Association that judges scores at competitions should be presented electronically immediately after each movement. This has been adopted at major competitions today.
From its inception, Lillian worked tirelessly for the VADA, whether it be competitions, clinics, education, constitutions, emblems, advertising. The list goes on and on. Anyone who takes advantage of the many benefits that VADA now offers, whether it be scholarships, competitions, clinics, etc., has Lillian Oliver to thank; and we should all be grateful for her inexhaustible efforts on our behalf.
Lillian’s energy went even beyond her efforts for VADA. I once arrived at her home only to find her on a ladder scraping and painting the entire exterior of her house. Another time in the mid-summer’s heat, she was decorating and installing beds in the tack room of a VERY HOT horse trailer or she was adding siding and flooring to the interior of the barn tack room! Many nights I would find her knitting or making quilts for her family or others. With all this, she always had time to make YOU feel special, welcomed, cared for, and even loved. If you were there early in the morning, she made breakfast. In the evening, you were always invited for dinner. If you were sad, she was sympathetic; if you were happy, she would celebrate your joy; if you were sick, she offered healing advice. Her love, joy, pride and support of her family was supreme. It was always evident that nothing was more important to her than Linda and Barbara and, later, her beloved grandchildren. I often found myself somewhat jealous of being outside of that tight, loving, albeit eccentric, quirky circle that was their family. If it were possible for a young adult to adopt a parent, I would have adopted Lillian.
I am devastated that I did not have a chance to say goodbye to Lillian and to tell her how much she meant to me. And I hope her family knows that Lillian will live on in my memory and the memories of all those left behind who are the benefactors of her life with us.
Also about Lillian Oliver:
A Tribute to Lillian Oliver - by Mary Callan