Portrait of a lady: Jill Faulkner Summers remembered

Paul Summers still remembers the Valentine's Day in 1954 when he met Jill Faulkner at Fort Bragg. He was a young infantry officer back from Korea, and she was a bridesmaid at a wedding. By June that year he'd asked her to marry him, and on August 21 they tied the knot.

"That was against the wishes of both sets of parents," says Summers, and one of those parents was Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner. "They thought it would be doomed to failure."

Fifty-three years of marriage later, Summers mourns the loss of his bride, who died April 21 at their White Hall home, Knole Farm, at age 74 following a severe stroke in November 2006.

The couple moved to Charlottesville when Paul attended law school. They had three children– Paul III, Cathy, and Bok– and moved to the country in the '60s.

She was happiest when hunting, recalls her husband. At Farmington Hunt Club, Jill Summers was master of foxhounds, the longest-serving active female master in North America.

"Jill was anything but a feminist," says Paul Summers. "She was appalled at the word. She was proud to be an attractive woman. She was a lady."

Patrick Butterfield echoes that sentiment. "Very little ruffled her, and I never heard her use a bad word," he says. The only indication of her anger, he says, was that her small mouth got smaller.

He first met her fox hunting in the 1960s when she rode easily excitable American saddlebreds– "This very lovely, small lady riding these crazy animals," recalls Butterfield, who later saw her not just survive, but prevail, after getting kicked in the face by a horse. "She was transported to UVA Medical Center and had her face reconstructed," he says. "She was lucky she came out alive."

Jill Summers was the center of her family's life, says Butterfield, and two of her children lived nearby. "She and Paul," he says, "were ideal grandparents."

She loved to cook, and her roast leg of lamb was one of the family's favorite meals, her husband recalls. A private person, especially if asked about her famous father, Summers, he says, shared William Faulkner's aloofness: "Like Pappy– he had the coldest stare if he didn't like the question– she'd stare."

In Stockholm in 1950, Faulkner created not stares but applause with a legendarily optimistic speech about writers and mankind.

"She was with him when he received the Nobel Prize," says Butterfield. "Jill never wanted to be in the limelight. She made her own way."

Of her father's books, "I know she really liked The Reivers," says Butterfield, "because of its lightness, and characters were based on people in this community."

Once he knew Jill Summers, Butterfield read all of Faulkner, and remembers discussing the books with her. Characters like the Snopes were based on people she knew in the Oxford, Mississippi, area, and some of the things that happened in the books were true. "The people in the books were really not far-fetched," he says.

6 comments

Slow week for news?

Cletus,

Now why would you go and write something like that? Let's see...you're obviously not from Charlottesville...or else you'd know that Jill Summers is one of our most well-known personalalities, and more than worthy of this fine post...you have no appreciation of great literature and the stories surrounding it...you have no respect for the dead...and odds are, I'm willing to bet, no one is going to write anything about you when you die.

Buck: I'm sure she was a nice lady and I do genuinely feel sorry for her family. But in the final analysis both posts on the Hook essentially distill to: "Daughter of famous author dies". I know lots of nice old ladies that have done a lot for Charlottesville. However, they don't rate posts in the Hook. Why do you suppose that is? The content on the Hooks webpage hasn't changed in quite some time and it looks to me as though things are pretty slow at the office. With everything currently wrong in this country I have difficulty believing the Hook is strapped for content. So it wasn't a slight against Ms. Summers. It was an implicit statement that things must be, and clearly are, slow in the news office. Neither article boasts any literary, political, legal or scientific contribution by Ms. Summers. So imho 1 article was more than sufficient.

I agree with Cletus and Buck's retort was mean-spirited ("no one is going to write anything about you when you die") and evidence that Buck is a bore and likely a crying groupie.

This is Mrs. Summers' eldest grandaughter and I think that this cletus character is a ignorant rude person that should show a little more empathy towards others, you obviously have never suffered a severe loss. There is no reason for you to be spouting negative energy towards our family at this time!

"her roast leg of lamb was one of the family's favorite meals" Wondering how the lamb enjoyed the experience...