Cynthia Cannon Cogswell, a legend in her lifetime, died in Atlanta on January 30. She was 87.
Over six feet tall, she had an outsized personality to match. She preferred to do as she pleased, never considering what others might think. She never minced her words, having little regard for the effect of her remarks. Most of all, she lived life to the hilt.
Cynthia first came to Millbrook in her early teens. On weekends she hunted with her father, Dr. A. Benson Cannon, but mostly she showed, much to her mother’s disapproval.
It was on the show circuit that Cynthia met Betty Bosley, one of the most brilliant riders of her day. The two women became joint owners of Marchized, a horse trained by Bosley and ridden by Mikey Smithwick that won the Maryland Hunt Cup, said by Sports Illustrated to be the “world’s most difficult race to win.”
By the late 1950s, Cynthia had married James K. Cogswell, a former naval officer, and was living in a house on the Shunpike. In 1962, four years after her son, Jamie, was born, she moved to England, where she became interested in flat racing. It was there that she was mistakenly identified as Countess Cogswell. After returning to Millbrook in the early 1970s, Cynthia hired 21-year-old John B. Secor, Betty Bosley’s nephew, as her trainer. Together they were successful, and the white-and-red silks Cynthia inherited from her father were on the winners of more than 50 races.
In 1974 Governor Hugh Carey instituted the New York–bred program to promote the sport of racing in the state. For Cynthia, who could read the stud book as if it were a novel, the new program seemed just what she wanted. She bought the 140-acre former Bennett College riding complex on Route 44 and named it Closeburn Stud. ''I know we can raise as good horses here as anywhere in the world,'' Cynthia told a reporter.
The one-story brick house she called a “neo-Georgian ranch” was perfect for the parties she loved to give. In 1982 society columnist Suzy reported in the New York Post that Cynthia gave a fête champêtre “in her all-white garden blooming with dogwoods, horse chestnuts and lilac … the John Hainses and the Franklin Roosevelts were among those who assembled to eat smoked pheasant, blue eggs, cannelloni and fresh strawberries. … The blue eggs are supposedly laid by a rare South American chicken.”
For years Cynthia never missed a hunt ball; many men remember how well she danced. And who can forget Bill Free’s birthday party, when Cynthia emerged from the cake wearing fishnet stockings and lots of feathers? Nor the coaching lunch at Fraleigh Farm when, rather use the entrance to the tent, she climbed over the fence, thereby showing off her magnificent legs to the assembled guests. Her clothes were equally memorable —always chic, but often flamboyant. Only she could have come to St. Peter’s on Easter Sunday clad from head to toe in purple, looking magnificent. She was also known to appear in church in nightgown and slippers, also looking magnificent. Her hats were one of her trademarks. No one had hats like Cynthia’s.
As JB Secor said, “She always used to say, you go big or you stay on the farm. She came in big and we played big as long as we could. I’ve never been with anybody that had more fun with money. I wish she had had plenty of money because she would have had plenty of fun.”
Cynthia may never have had plenty of money, but she did the best she could with what she had, and that was very good indeed. And she certainly had more than her fair share of fun.
She leaves no children, as her son died some years ago.