Joseph M. Rogers — Virginia country doctor, horse breeder and naturalist — dies at 90

April 12

Joseph M. Rogers, who died March 8 at 90, was a country doctor and gentleman farmer, a breeder of Angus cattle and thoroughbred racehorses, a fox hunter and steeplechase jockey, a trainer of dogs and horses, a conservationist, naturalist, businessman, newspaper owner, and a defender of the rural lifestyles and folkways that defined his Virginia heritage.

In his public profile, he was best known for his horsemanship and was an accomplished rider. His horses thrice won the prestigious Virginia Gold Cup, the steeplechase race in The Plains, Va.

He founded and organized races over the meadows, hills and woods of his ancestral countryside. He was master of foxhounds for the Loudoun Hunt. He harvested hay and other crops on his farm, had an interest in a family milling business and for more than 30 years was a full-time physician.

Returning home from military service in the early 1950s, Dr. Rogers practiced medicine the old-fashioned way. His office was in Leesburg, Va., but he made house calls around Loudoun County, which then had a population of less than 30,000. It was not yet the mega-suburb that it has become in recent decades. His patients included farm owners and farmhands, and the farmhands sometimes paid him in such currency as homemade dandelion wine or a dozen fresh eggs.

There weren’t many doctors in the area then, so Dr. Rogers did pretty much everything. He delivered babies. He was coroner. He ran a private practice in internal medicine. He was chief of staff at Loudoun Memorial Hospital. His wife, Donna Rogers, said he was perpetually on call. Just about everyone knew him as “Dr. Joe.”


At the1972 Virginia Gold Cup, from left, Mrs. J.H. Tyler Wilson, Dr. Joseph M. Rogers and Mrs. Harcourt Lees presenting. Dr. Rogers’s horse King of Spades won the feature that year. (Douglas Lees)

In the 1980s, he ended his private medical practice but continued to serve for another five years as chief of the emergency room at Loudoun Memorial, pulling 12-hour shifts several times a week. Then he turned full time to preservation, conservation, farming and horses.

He died at his Loudoun County home — Hillbrook — a 1,200-acre farm near Hamilton, Va., that had been in his family since 1744. The cause of death was a stroke, his wife said.

Joseph Megeath Rogers was born in Washington on Nov. 23, 1923. His family co-owned and operated the Wilkins-Rogers Milling Co. in Georgetown, a business begun with the establishment of flour mills in Virginia shortly after the Civil War. The company is now based in Ellicott City, Md.

Dr. Rogers graduated from Washington’s old Central High School just before the U.S. entry into World War II and from the University of Maryland’s medical school in 1947, having pursued a wartime accelerated medical-academic curriculum. He subsequently served in the Air Force.

As a businessman, his interests included not only the Wilkins-Rogers mills, but also the Loudoun County Milling Co. With a friend, Brett Phillips, he was a founder of the newspaper Leesburg Today in 1988.

He had been advised against investing in the start-up newspaper by Arthur W. Arundel, the owner of the rival Loudoun Times-Mirror. “You’ll lose your shirt,” Arundel warned. “Well, I’ve got lots of shirts,” Phillips quoted Dr. Rogers as saying.

As a conservationist, Dr. Rogers was instrumental in the creation of the Goose Creek Historic District, which includes several thousand acres of permanently preserved rural land, and he put more than 900 acres of his own property into preservation easements.

Dr. Rogers was not given to public oratory or forceful speech, friends said. But he was passionate in his commitment to protect the rustic legacy of his home and region from encroachment by shopping malls, four-lane highways and subdivisions crammed with look-alike houses.

When advocating a conservation or natural preservation issue, his style was to invite one or two influential figures to his Hillbrook home for a quiet dinner at which he would listen to their views and then present his own thoughts. He always thanked his guests for coming.

“When you want to get your point across, you don’t do it by embarrassing other people,” Phillips quoted him as having said.

Until the final years of his life, Dr. Rogers was an energetic competitor in races and hunts. One of his favorite horses was King of Spades, a large, gangly gelding known for stamina and an unusual way of jumping, with his front legs crossed as he hurdled an obstacle.

Dr. Rogers rode King of Spades rodeo style, standing in the stirrups and leaning back to make the jumps easier. The horse died during the 1990s in a freak accident. He ran into a wood fence, and one of the rails pierced his heart. Newspapers published full obituaries. The bluegrass group Country Gentlemen wrote and sang a song about him. His remains were interred at Hillbrook.

Dr. Rogers’s first marriage, to Marilyn Patton, ended in divorce. In 1985, he married Donna Truslow.

Besides his wife, survivors include three children from his first marriage, Marilyn Renner of Hamilton, Joseph M. Rogers Jr. of Hamilton and Elizabeth Villeda of Kearneysville, W.Va.; two brothers, Samuel H. Rogers Jr. of Leesburg and Richard A. Rogers of Purcellville, Va.; and a granddaughter.

As a physician, Dr. Rogers did not have to be told that riding horses could be dangerous. He loved it, despite the cost in broken bones suffered in falls over the years. He broke his neck once in a particularly serious spill, and he was warned of the consequences should the injury occur again.

He put on a protective collar and got back on his horse.

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