Lexington horseman and philanthropist Hilary J. Boone Jr. died Thursday at his home. He was 91.
Mr. Boone, a Thoroughbred breeder who established Wimbledon Farm in southeastern Fayette County in 1972, was a major supporter of the University of Kentucky. He provided financing for UK's Hilary J. Boone Center faculty club and Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center.
Over the years, he served on the boards of many organizations and businesses, including Humana Inc., Centre College, Hinkle Contracting Co., Commerce National Bank, Shakertown, Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, the Iroquois Hunt Club and the Headley-Whitney Museum.
"Hilary was one of the most generous philanthropists in Lexington's history," said horsewoman and socialite Marylou Whitney. "His life will live on in the many institutions he supported."
Born and reared in Springfield, Ky., Mr. Boone's connections with UK began as a student who paid his way through by delivering newspapers and manning the night desk at the Wellington Arms. On his way to his 1941 economics degree, he also became captain of the university's tennis team.
He was a bombardier in the Army Air Corps in World War II, and his military service between 1941 and 1945 included stints in England and North Africa. He was discharged as a major.
Mr. Boone began his career in life insurance, but he made his fortune in Humana Hospital stock.
He also was successful in the Thoroughbred industry. His Wimbledon Farm was where Kentucky Derby winner Spectacular Bid and English Derby winner Golden Fleece were foaled and raised. The stallion Relaunch, in which Mr. Boone held part ownership, also stood at Wimbledon.
"His greatest assets were probably the ability to ascertain the inherent value of something and his great judge of character," said his son, Alex Boone.
With his vast wealth, estimated in 1985 at $50 million, Mr. Boone began making high-profile donations.
"I always wanted to see how Santa Claus felt," Mr. Boone said in the mid-1980s, just after giving UK $1 million to build a new faculty club. "I've been an accumulator all my life. Now I'm turning into a disperser."
Former UK vice chancellor Jack Blanton recalled that Mr. Boone "had very specific ideas about what ought to be done" when it came to the construction of the Boone faculty club.
Shortly after crews began laying bricks for the center, they had to take the bricks out and start over, Blanton said.
"We had to put in green mortar and a grapevine slash," he said.
Mr. Boone even had a hand in decorating the interior of the club named for him. In the mid-1990s, he commissioned artists to make pieces for the center. Mr. Boone himself donated several oil paintings, including one by Paul Sawyier, for display at the club.
"He was a very quiet guy, but he was very strong-willed," Blanton said. "He was a good friend of the University of Kentucky."
Mr. Boone was a familiar figure at Lexington social and charitable events, and he fox-hunted in his free time.
"He rode with one arm; the other one was there, but it was not functional," said Lexington horseman Preston Madden. "His horsemanship and endurance were equal to anyone in the field."
His disability stemmed from a 1976 diagnosis of Guillain Barré Syndrome, which left him paralyzed completely. Hospitalized for six months, he was placed in an iron lung to allow him to breathe properly. Although he recovered from his illness, he was left with only partial use of one arm, his son said.
And although Mr. Boone was often in the spotlight for charitable donations and social events, he did endure a heated and highly publicized divorce in the late 1980s and early 1990s from former jockey Claudia Starr Boone.
A squabble about their divorce settlement continued after their marriage was dissolved in 1991. Before he married Claudia Starr in 1985, Mr. Boone estimated his net worth at $50 million. Claudia Starr Boone's wealth was estimated at $100,000. Each accused the other of having extramarital affairs.
Mr. Boone's son Hilary J. Boone III died in 1997. Survivors include three children: Alyce Boone Hoskins, Elizabeth VanMeter Boone and Samuel Alexander Barber Boone; a sister; and seven grandchildren.
A private graveside service will be held, and there will be no visitation. Memorial gifts are suggested to one's favorite charity. Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Main Street is handling arrangements.
Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.