Captain Ronnie Wallace

Click to follow

Ronald Eden Wallace, huntsman: born Rotherfield, Sussex 19 July 1919; Chairman, Masters of Foxhounds Association 1970-92; married first Jean Thornton (one son deceased; marriage dissolved), second Valerie Kemp Gee (marriage dissolved), third Peggy Miller Mundy (marriage dissolved); fourth Rosie Lycett Green (one son); died Milverton, Somerset 7 February 2002.

Ronnie Wallace was a Master of Foxhounds for an astonishing 58 consecutive years. Anybody who ever followed hounds – and many who did not – would have known the name of this large and formidable man, whose celebrated skills as a huntsman may never be equalled. He was a vigorous campaigner on the pro-hunting lobby and an indomitable opponent of those who sought to ban the sport to which he devoted such a large part of his life.

His passion for hunting began as a schoolboy in Sussex, where his father was secretary of the Eridge foxhounds. Much of his inspiration came through listening to conversations between Will Freeman of the Eridge and his famous brother, Frank, who was huntsman of the Pytchley. Before he was 10, Wallace had gathered together his own bobbery pack, so called because it was a mixture of hounds and dogs that included beagles, terriers and a golden retriever. Even then, he must have had the power to charm when he so wished, since farmers and landowners were soon persuaded to let him hunt on their land.

Wallace was educated at Eton where, at the age of 16, he became Master of the Eton Beagles. During school holidays, when he and his two younger brothers were taken on holiday to Somerset, Wallace hunted with the Exmoor foxhounds and came to love their country, which lies in North Devon and West Somerset, describing it as "the most wonderful setting for hunting". Many years later, it was to lure him back for his last quarter-century as an MFH.

At Oxford, where he started reading History in 1938, he was appointed Master of the Christ Church beagles shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. Having volunteered for the Army, he was commissioned in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars and posted to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where military duties did not appear to impinge too much on his hunting. It was not long before he had formed his own pack, which he named Mr Wallace's Beagles. In 1944 he was posted to Phantom, an intelligence unit that was set up in France after D-Day.

He had also become a master of the Ludlow foxhounds in 1944 and the following year, when he was given the post of paymaster to a prisoner-of-war camp in the same area, he had ample opportunity to continue indulging his obsession with hunting. His mastership of the Ludlow (1944-48) overlapped with his assignment at the Teme Valley (1947-48). These were followed by the Cotswold (1948-52), the Heythrop (1952-77) and the Exmoor, where he took over in 1977 and was still in office when he died.

Unlike many other masters, who employed professional huntsmen, he hunted hounds himself until he was well into his seventies. Some years ago, when The Observer ran a series called "The Experts' Expert", Wallace was chosen as "The Masters of Foxhounds' Master of Foxhounds". He was the only one of 10 renowned MFHs who declined to make his own choice, claiming that it would be "invidious" on account of his role as Chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, which he carried out from 1970 until 1992. Of the other nine interviewed, six nominated Wallace.

Captain Charles Barclay, another long-serving MFH, did mention some great names from the past (among them, inevitably, the 10th Duke of Beaufort) before agreeing to name a current Master. "I suppose I'm left with Ronnie Wallace, who I went to school with," he said. "Everybody is bound to choose him because we call him God, don't we?" Others were less equivocal. Wallace was praised for his "special ability to know what will happen next when out hunting", for his handling of hounds "in the appropriate manner for getting them to do whatever he wants them to do", for his "organisational ability" and for being "a great expert on hound breeding".

Strangely enough, considering how much time he spent in the saddle, he was not a gifted rider. He appreciated that horses were essential for anybody who wished to hunt foxhounds but, although he always rode excellent hunters, he seems to have taken little interest in them as anything other than a means of conveyance. His preoccupation lay in working with hounds and he developed an uncanny ability to communicate with them. He was also a hugely successful breeder, having won no less than 33 championships at the Royal Foxhound Show at Peterborough – 19 while with the Heythrop and 14 with the Exmoor.

Wallace was on his way to see his wife Rosie in hospital at Taunton, when he sustained fatal injuries in a car crash.

Genevieve Murphy