Who Is Serena Chesnut FitzRandolph MacRae Crosby?

Posted 23 October 2007 to , by Ruthie Windsor-Mann
Sui generis: Chessie Crosby (center) has her say Photo by Ruthie Windsor-Mann

Did you know that Serena Chesnut FitzRandolph MacRae Crosby was a trainer who exercised the hounds for fox hunting in Virginia? Did you know that Serena Chesnut FitzRandolph MacRae Crosby jumped and walked away from a plane crash in 1973?

Probably not.

And why should you care?

And who is this Serena Chesnut FitzRandolph MacRae Crosby anyway?

Born in 1925 in Birmingham, Alabama, Chessie claims she was a “basket case” brought to Linville when she was six months old. Her grandparents first came in 1907 and it seemed a perfect place to entertain their children and grandchildren. Summers were filled with many activities such as golf, tennis, horseback riding, hiking, and camping. It was only later that skiing and croquet were added to her athletic pursuits. Chessie was once rescued by Hugh Morton when she and her cohorts were playing in a drained lake. It turned to something akin to quicksand and he had to pull her out with a board.

Chessie married George MacRae, first cousin of Hugh Morton’s mother, Agnes MacRae Morton. It was while she and George were living on their cattle farm in White Post, Virginia that Chessie, “mostly pregnant,” helped train the hounds while riding through the wheat fields.

Later the family sold the farm and moved to Alabama, and then to the Linville area. Chessie was the recreation director of Linville/Eseeola for several years, and helped start Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain, while raising four children.

In 1973 Chessie was in a small airplane which took off from the Beech Mountain airport and landed in a tree. Chessie jumped out and the pilot brought out the other passenger, who was on fire and dying. The pilot landed under the plane and was pulled out by a hung over bystander just before the plane exploded. Still wounded, that pilot partnered with Chessie to win a Sugar Mountain tennis tournament the next summer.

Our hero’s croquet career didn’t begin until 1989 when she was one of the founding members of croquet at Useppa Island. Introduced to the nine wicket game by Bob Sumwalt, Chessie and the others were told by a visitor that they needed to eschew the nine wicket game in favor of six wicket croquet. That summer Chessie was having lunch with Mary Lou Rice at Grandfather and became more intrigued with the six wicket game. She sat with Mary Lou at the deadness board on many afternoons and listened to Mary Lou’s game analysis. Mack Penwell was invited to come to Grandfather to lead clinics and Chessie was hooked. She loaded Mack into the car and hunted for a suitable spot to build a croquet court in Linville. Eseeola’s court is now on the spot where the 18th hole of the Linville golf course used to be. It’s also across from Chessie’s grandfather’s house. Not satisfied with only having two croquet courts in the area, Chessie talked Ray Lutgert into building two courts at Linville Ridge.

After marrying Gordon Crosby and moving to New York City, Chessie enjoyed her five year membership in the New York Croquet Club, playing in Central Park just north of Tavern on the Green. More recently, she has started a croquet club in her relatively new environs of Jacksonville.

Croquet in the High Country owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Chessie and we should never forget it. In recognition of the North Carolina croquet family’s love for her, Chessie was presented with a fancy mallet at the 2006 NC Club Teams Tournament. If it weren’t for her survivability none of us would be able to enjoy the good croquet experiences we have every year.

Here’s to you, Serena Chesnut FitzRandolph MacRae Crosby! May you continue to spread the gospel of croquet in Jacksonville and beyond!