By Chelsea Rose Moore

Karen Ewbank at the Blue Ridge Hunt Ball from 2016 with Peter Cook-who became her fiance as of December 2017. Photo by Joanne Maisano

Karen Ewbank at the Blue Ridge Hunt Ball from 2016 with Peter Cook-who became her fiance as of December 2017. Photo by Joanne Maisano

Karen Ewbank tragically passed away Monday, April 9, in a two-car collision in Clarke County, Virginia. Born on May 7, 1958, in Hong Kong, Karen studied, worked and lived all over the world before settling in Virginia’s horse and hunt country.

Her daughter Mo Baptiste described her life as “the story of the strong woman.” 

She grew up in New Zealand, studied fashion design at the Wellington Polytechnic School of Design in Wellington, and worked as a costume designer for the Mercury Theatre in Auckland. She began modeling in New Zealand, and her charismatic personality opened opportunities for her to model for Vogue and Elle magazines (Vogue Italia, Vogue Australia, Vogue Japan, Elle, Paris).

She attended a horse show in France, and realized she was ready to put her modeling days behind her. She began taking riding lessons in France and completed her riding instructors exams there. She trained and boarded horses, and taught riding lessons for 25 years, inspiring a deep love of horses in family and friends. “Horses always called her,” said Mo. Her love of horses was what brought her to Virginia in 1989, the place she and her daughters called home. She enjoyed foxhunting with Piedmont Fox Hounds and Blue Ridge Hunt and was a passionate advocate of animals.

When her Lyme Disease kept her from riding professionally, she turned her attention to clothing. As the owner of the well-known Ewbank Clothiers in Berryville, Virginia, she designed equestrian wear, bridal gowns and evening attire. She worked as designer and pattern maker and loved fabrics like silk and cotton. A fierce lover of style and good design, she was deeply passionate about her work.

In spite of her tremendous accomplishments, she was perhaps best known by her memorable smile and kind heart, “The Karen Kindness,” as some have called it. She frequently went out of her way to help others and make them feel cherished.

Karen & Daughters

Karen & Daughters

“She was very kind to everyone, to animals and to humans. She gave everyone a level playing field, from the poorest to the richest,” said Mo, her voice steady, but filled with emotion and admiration.

Mrs. Ewbank embraced her life with all the courage, boldness and tenacity she could find. With a twinkle in her eye, she celebrated life on earth and inspired countless individuals to embrace life with confidence and joy. Her life was one that touched many, and she motivated others to be the best
version of themselves.

“People would always tell me, ‘I met your mom, and she was so lovely!’” said Mo, “Everyone looked up to her. She was this beautiful, humble, gracious woman – and did everything gracefully and effortlessly. We [Charlotte and I] definitely try to live by her example.”

She was most proud of her daughters, Charlotte Baptiste and Mo Baptiste, and treasured her time with them.

Longtime friend Juliet Graham met Mrs. Ewbank through the equestrian community and developed a close friendship with her. While they first bonded over horses, their friendship grew over time. Mrs. Ewbank made Graham’s daughter’s wedding dress and Graham’s mother-of-the-bride dress. She had a “great design flair,” said Graham.

Karen working as a clothing designer and dressmaker. Photo by Janet Hitchen

Karen working as a clothing designer and dressmaker. Photo by Janet Hitchen

“Her girls are amazing women. I’m very proud of them,” said Graham, commenting that Karen’s kindness is reflected in both of her daughters. She went on to add, “[Karen’s] parents are lovely, lovely people. I can see where she got it [her kindness] from.”

Mrs. Ewbank is survived by her parents Marie and Ted Ewbank, her sister Margaret (Bobo), and her daughters Charlotte and Mo Baptiste.

Friends of Mrs. Ewbank are collecting memories and photos to create a book filled with stories, anecdotes and remembrances of her. Copies will be given to Karen’s family. Memories and photos can be shared by emailing KarenEwbankMemories@gmail.com or sending a direct message on the Facebook page Karen Ewbank Remembrance Book (@karenewbankmemories).

Karen’s memorial service was held on Wednesday, April 25, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville, Virginia. A catered reception was held afterwards. Memorial donations can be made to the Blue Ridge Hunt (blueridgehunt.org/wp/) or the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center  (www.blueridgewildlifectr.org).