Knock of an Angel
Date Posted: 3/9/2004 7:13:47 AM
Last Updated: 3/10/2004 3:39:02 PM

By Amanda G. Simmons
A great woman died Feb. 28--Margaret "Sissy" Woolums. Many of you met her through her work at The Jockey Club, others through her work as owner of Pedigree Productions (the company that has produced the Fasig-Tipton catalogues for decades), her service as a racing commissioner, and during her work as a bloodstock agent. Sissy believed angels knocked on doors, a belief many of us realized when we had the fortune of staying at her warm home and meeting the other "angels" whom she occasionally housed. If the walls of her "sunflower" room could only talk...she was a stranger to no one, and an impeccable hostess to all; she was an elegant woman from old Virginia stock, but a modern woman who pursued her career in the Thoroughbred industry long before it was fashionable.

I met Sissy over the phone when I worked for Live Foal in Houston. Prior to my move to Lexington in late 1997, Sissy insisted on my staying with her while I looked for a place to live. She didn't know me from Adam, but she opened her home to me for as long as I needed. Upon arriving in Lexington, she took me under her wing and introduced me to Lexington society, and many of the industry's leaders. Who would do that for a stranger and a person less than half her age? Only a person of great strength, graciousness, and generosity.

Her list of friends reads like Who's Who, but you'd never hear her drop names. When she first started introducing me to her friends, I would call my family just awestruck because these people were the movers and shakers! My youthful enthusiasm only amused Sissy and I learned quickly that she was a friend of these important people because she was a great judge of character; and the "important" people flocked to Sissy because she was the greatest person most of us have ever met. There have been a few people who, over the years, undoubtedly took advantage of Sissy and her incredible kindness, but she did not let that change who she was. She was stronger than that.

I was her "date" for the last Madden Derby party. Had it not been for her, I never would have been introduced to the incomparable Maddens, met the controversial (and constitutionally important) Larry Flynt, or experienced the history that was that party. I remember saying to her, "The only thing that separates the people in here from the people in strip clubs is that we're paying several hundred dollars just to get in (where much of the staff was practically nude and painted only in gold)!" She just laughed and nodded her head. This was the Thoroughbred industry, after all, a place where worlds collided. Sissy appreciated the paradox of life and took its ironies in stride. She found humor in life's absurdities, but was never short of words when someone acted stupidly or was motivated by greed. Sissy brought more integrity to the game than any person I ever met.

Sissy was an example to us all. Today, horsemen and women around the world mourn her passing. However, all of us who had the good fortune of experiencing her graciousness, generosity, and wisdom are compelled to be her legacy. There is an international "Society of Woolums" and its members are known by opening their doors to strangers, by sharing their knowledge of the industry, and by serving their clients with absolute integrity. They are known by raising their voices where there is injustice, by being good stewards to the majestic Thoroughbred, and by selflessly serving the industry when it needs them. They reap what they S.O.W.

Sissy never minced words. If she was here (and I think that she is), she would tell me death was a part of life and to buckle down and focus on the tasks at hand. I so wish I could have been with her, her family, and her very closest friends during the final months when she so gallantly battled the cancer that took her. However, she would have felt uncomfortable about the tears I (still) am shedding for our loss, and told me they were not necessary. Funny thing about Sissy, though, is that she wouldn't want to go to heaven if there weren't horses...and if heaven has no horses, then I am comforted by the fact that she is still with us.

AMANDA G. SIMMONS is a corporate attorney in Tampa, Fla.

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