Catherine Wills, Art Historian, Amazon and Philanthropist – Obituary

Catherine Mary Hamilton Wills was born on November 23, 1950, the eldest child of David (later Sir David) Wills and Eva, née Kavanagh. She grew up with her younger brother Martin in Sandford Park, an idyllic Oxfordshire estate around the village of Sandford St Martin.

From an early age she rode hunting dogs and competed in three-day eventing, although she had little patience for dressage and preferred cross-country courses at speed. In 1978 she won the Melton Hunt Cup on a horse named Alchemist. She later owned a series of racehorses and kept broodmares at stud farms in France, Ireland and Kentucky, as well as Newmarket.

The horses had had a somewhat truncated upbringing as a result. Discovering her love of art history, she applied to the Courtauld Institute and was dismayed to find that she needed some A-levels first. She asked her parents why they had failed to point this out, so her father asked the director of All Souls’ Day to suggest a tutor.

She not only received her degree from the Courtauld, but followed it up with a PhD, supervised by Neil MacGregor. Her father, a descendant of the Wills tobacco family, had bought the Ditchley estate and donated the magnificent house and park where Churchill spent war weekends to a foundation to promote Anglo-American understanding in the Cold War.

When Catherine’s brother Martin, a professional journalist, tragically died of a brain tumor at the age of 39 in 1992, his will donated the Ditchley Foundation and several separate charities, and Catherine found herself fully employed to support these various charities and other charities. to support goals. Wills family foundations.

She threw herself into Ditchley’s work and regularly traveled to the United States in search of ideas and people. Ditchley’s directors found her surprisingly radical in her suggestions, and when pomposity set in, she could be mischievous, once butter in the seat of a particularly smug politician at dinner while he was not at the table. She was a benefactor and fellow of Magdalen College and Harris Manchester Colleges, Oxford.

Famous among her friends for being always on the move, she managed the family estates, including land in Ousden in Suffolk and Knockando in Morayshire. In addition to agricultural, philanthropic and academic work, opera, theatre, exhibitions and race meetings were incorporated. Piles of loosely organized paper followed her everywhere, until an American friend finally persuaded her of the benefits of laptops and email—to which she then became addicted.

Her attention to the details of the salmon fishing schedule for her friends in Knockando, or the breeding pedigrees of white park cattle in Ditchley, remained sharp to the very end.

She was modest, charming and allergic to sympathy, but once she made up her mind, nothing could change her. The inattentive courage she showed when facing cancer over the past year, while caring for her dying mother, was remarkable. She outlived her mother by less than three months.

Catherine Wills never married, and neither did her brother, but the family connection to Ditchley continues through her cousin Robert Wills.

Catherine Wills, born November 23, 1950, died July 29, 2022

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