Melvin Poe was born in a rural corner of northwest Fauquier County, VA in late summer 1920. Following the footsteps of father Ollie, Melvin Poe grew up riding and hunting, following hounds around fields and forest of his virtually limitless neighborhood near the center of Hume. Some nine decades later, he's still at it, and Poe celebrated his 93rd birthday Sunday in a predictable way: going foxhunting.
Along with a dozen neighbors and family members, Poe hunted hounds from his Ozark Farm Aug. 25, drawing a favored wooded copse across from the post office and finding it “full of game,” Poe said as his seven-couple of hounds pronounced the presence of a late-to-bed night-fox. Rapidly warming conditions made scenting difficult, Poe said, as the morning hours passed.
Poe knows from experience the vagaries of trying conditions– he's worked in hunting for 66 years, first whip then huntsman at the Old Dominion Hounds and later, from 1964 to 1991, at the Orange County Hunt. In 2011, Poe was inducted along with younger brother Albert to the sport's Hall of Fame – the Huntsmen's Room at the Museum of Hounds and Hunting.
After riding all morning, friends gathered at Melvin and wife Peggy's farmhouse for cake and to discuss Poe's secrets to nearly a century of success.
“I think it's pretty simple. Melvin's a people-person, all the way. He gets along with everybody, and if he doesn't know you when he comes into a room, he'll know you when he leaves.”
Leroy Ryan, professional whip to Poe from 1956-1963 when Poe was huntsman at the Old Dominion Hounds: “Coming out of the woods today, the group of riders finally wandered away from (the covert) and I was holding open a gate for Melvin. I said to him that, now that all the chattering people had moved off, maybe the fox would run out. He laughed and said, 'I hope not. No one would get to see him then.' That's what I think is most unique about Melvin Poe – he's always known that first and foremost he's in the entertainment business. He tries to make it fun for everybody.”
Writer Jackie Burke, who hunted behind Poe at ODH and Orange County Hunt: “Melvin's always been a great teacher, so unselfish with his wisdom. He loves to share his knowledge … all that stuff you can't learn in a book.”
Butch Gray, professional whip to Poe at OCH for 12 seasons, later huntsman at Piedmont: “I've literally spent all my hunting life around Melvin. I'm glad to be able to share today with him, it is very nostalgic.”
Charlie Matheson, former president of the Orange County Hunt: “Melvin it totally different than other huntsmen. He wants (the field) right up with him, not hundreds of yards back. His pure joy is to share his love of hounds and sport with others. He's spent his whole life with his passion as his profession. We should all be so lucky.”
Bridget Paradise, former master of the Long Lake Hounds in Minnesota: “He amazes me, putting together such a dynamic pack of hounds and superb sport when he's just cobbled together hounds that other hunts didn't want for one reason or another. He's got as much of a way with hounds as he has with people.”
Melvin Poe plans to never stop hunting, crediting equal parts chocolate milk, green tea and rigorous physical exercise for longevity and health spanning over nine decades.
“There's no secret to it. I don't do some things that other people do – I don't drink coffee, I don't eat sugar and salt much, or drink whiskey. It's a long time spent outside, doing what you love. That's all.”