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.