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© Billings Gazette
ROUNDUP, MT—OCTOBER 9, 2019—Montana-based horsewoman Virginia Elizabeth Lee died October 4, 2019, at age 97. She breathed in the aroma of Montana with every breath, from barnyards to brandings, dusty cattle drives and fragrant flower beds, tame or wild, to the sweet sweaty smell of a favorite horse after a long day’s ride. “Nanny” has finished her marathon.
She ran her race for over 97 years in boots covered with the dust of barns and corrals, and knees muddy from working in the beds of flowers she loved to grow. We can only imagine after traveling so many miles how sweet that finish line looked, with the roaring cheers of those who have finished before and the reward of hearing ‘Well done.’
Virginia Elizabeth Lee was born June 14, 1922, to William and Hazel Spidel. She grew up alongside her younger brother Edward on the family ranch on Goulding Creek near Roundup, Montana. In her childhood years she attended a nearby one-room schoolhouse, then later boarded in both Belmont and Roundup to attend high school. After graduating high school Virginia attended college at MSU in Bozeman for two years before returning home to help at the family ranch on Goulding Creek.
Virginia was truly a cowgirl at heart and time with her horses was one of the things she loved best. Her other passion was sewing. When she wasn't on a horse you could find her at the sewing machine. She became an excellent seamstress and received many awards during her 4-H years.
In September 1948, Virginia married her best friend, Merrill Lee, of Nevada, who had come to Montana to visit Ben Steele, a wartime friend and fellow P.O.W. During the next 15 years while Merrill served in the military they spent their time moving from one Air Force base to another. Germany, Georgia, Idaho, and Montana were all called home throughout these years. Along the way Virginia and Merrill became parents to three children; Susan, Elton, and Robert.
Upon Merrill's retirement in 1964, the family moved back to Roundup where Virginia and Merrill spent the next 40 years pursuing their dream of raising fast Quarter Horses. It was a joy to Virginia to see the new crop of colts every spring and to begin the delightful process of naming them. After her husband’s death in 2004, Virginia's grandsons stepped in to continue their racing legacy. Today, thanks to the boys’ efforts, there are still colts running and winning on the track from those foundation bloodlines.
In their own name, Virginia and Merrill bred more than 100 foals that have earned more than $750,000 on the racetrack. Among them is Grade 1 winner DMNV Mountable, who earned $479,515 in his career, as well as stakes winners Jodys Irish Miss, MNV Pack And Dash and MNV Soupandfrackers.
Virginia embodied hospitality. It didn’t matter if you were a human guest, a wandering feline, or a browsing deer, you could always find a good meal ready within minutes. Oh, and let’s not forget about all those hungry turkeys!
Virginia was also a devoted member of the local LDS church in Roundup and the friendships and community she enjoyed there throughout the years was a great blessing to her.
There are only a few people in this world that are cut from the best kind of cloth. They are generous, kind, gentle, and caring, seemingly without even trying, it is just who they are. Virginia was one of these persons. She had a heart for hospitality, gave generously of her time and resources, never ever would be heard saying a harsh word of anyone, and always saw the best in others. She will be greatly missed.
Virginia finished her race Friday, October 4, with her three children by her side. She is survived by her children and their spouses along with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.