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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Philanthropist, Horse Breeder Phyllis Mills Wyeth Dies at 78

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Phyllis Wyeth at a wedding in Wilmington, 1993

Phyllis Wyeth, a major supporter of arts and conservation causes passed away on January 14. 

The daughter of James Mills and Alice du Pont, Wyeth — with her husband, the noted artist Jamie Wyeth — gave generously to organizations in the Brandywine Valley and Maine, including the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Arts in Chadds Ford.

A statement from the organization noted that Wyeth was “an early and major supporter of the fledgling Tri-County Conservancy, which became the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art, and was a founding member of its Board.”

Phyllis Wyeth was also a successful owner and breeder of thoroughbred racehorses.  In 2012 her horse Union Rags won the Belmont Stakes.

Born in New York City, Wyeth grew up outside of Middleburg, Virginia, on Burnt Mill Farm, adjacent to Hickory Tree Farm, a renowned thoroughbred breeding, training and racing facility founded by her parents. The Mills’ family raised, owned and raced several top stakes winners such as “Devil’s Bag,” “Believe It” and “Gone West.”

An auto accident left her disabled at age 20, and throughout her life, she was an advocate for the rights of the handicapped and disabled.

Wyeth worked for then-U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, and later in the White House with President Kennedy’s special assistant. In 1968 she married artist Jamie Wyeth of Chadds Ford, son of Andrew Wyeth and grandson of N. C. Wyeth.

Page Evans (left) with Phyllis Wyeth April, 2012. The pair enjoyed opening night for an exhibition of works by Delaware artist Mary Page Evans (Page’s mother) at the Delaware Art Museum.

The couple’s 240-acre Point Lookout Farm — purchased by Phyllis Wyeth’s great grandfather in 1903 — on the Pennsylvania-Delaware border, played host through the years to many internationally renowned artists and celebrities including Andy Warhol and Rudolph Nureyev.

According to the Brandywine Conservancy, Wyeth and her husband, Jamie, were among the first to grant a conservation easement to the Conservancy in 1969, preserving 44.5 acres of their land along the west bank of the Brandywine River, permanently protecting it from development.

Wyeth worked as a teacher for the Terry Children’s Psychiatric Center in Wilmington, Delaware, and spent many years in Washington, D.C., working as a consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts, as vice chairperson of the National Committee on Arts for the Handicapped (now known as VSA, the international organization on arts and disability), and assisting with the National Very Special Arts Festival.

She also served on multiple boards, including the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art, the H.J. Heinz Company Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Mary Chichester duPont Foundation, the National Resources Defense Council, and as Trustee Emeritus of the Herring Gut Learning Center. She was appointed to the National Endowment for the Arts and Handicapped Advisory Task Force to the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals and served on the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped.

The Brandywine River Museum of Art has announced it will host a selection of paintings of Phyllis Wyeth by her husband, Jamie, as a special tribute exhibition in the coming weeks.


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