KILMARNOCK—“Your mom was an M&M. She was tough and crunchy on the outside, but on the inside, she was sweet and soft!”
So said one of Frances Altavieve Pugh Warren’s friends, hitting the nail right on the head.
Fran was a fierce woman. She was also determined, independent, stubborn, tough, honest, and as direct as a kick to the shin. And to those who earned it, she was loyal, protective, charitable, loving, playful, feisty, solid, protective, and would move heaven or earth for you.
Fran died peacefully at her home on August 24, 2021, next to her beloved dog Hallie.
Fran was born May 26, 1936, in Williamsburg to the late Altavieve (Sanford) Pugh and George Earl Pugh. Fran grew up on the water. Her father was the caretaker of a private hunting and fishing property on Wright’s Island off the Chickahominy River. Fran rowed herself across the water to the school bus every morning, and back again every afternoon. Her father also raised Chesapeake Bay retrievers, stoking in Fran a deep, lifelong love for most animals. But not snakes. Oh, how she hated snakes.
Fran was an only child, but she certainly didn’t end up a spoiled one. There was not an ounce of entitlement in Fran. She was hellbent on earning whatever she got. Fran married the late Jeffrey Cole Warren in 1963, and after a brief, hated stint in Montgomery, Alabama (where her only child Ryan was born), they moved to Virginia Beach and then eventually on to northern Virginia.
Fran started riding horses in Virginia Beach, and her love for them took off. In 1971, Fran and Jeff purchased their first horse farm in Fairfax Station, a five-acre spread with two small barns. Though beautiful and close to D.C. where Jeff worked, Fran needed more space for the increasing number of horses and all those teenagers who seemed to come out of the woodwork (but really came from the surrounding neighborhoods) to work and be around the horses. And she got it.
In 1976, Fran talked Jeff into moving to a much larger farm just outside Philomont. The problem was the main house on the property was built in the 1730s, with an addition in the 1820s, and it appeared not too much had been done with it since that time. Fran happily began acquiring more horses and horse boarders, eventually working her way up to 55 horses, nearly all Quarter Horses, including a magnificent stallion named Voo Doo Chick.
She took her son and the many teenagers to Quarter Horse shows throughout Virginia. For the first nine months of this Loudoun County horse farm adventure, the Warren’s lived in a Winnebago while the house was renovated. Fran was not thrilled with the Winnebago living, or the frozen out-house when the Winnebago bathroom wasn’t working properly, but whatever it took to get the horse farm!
Finally, however, the stress of a significant Quarter Horse breeding and boarding operation simply became too much and Fran gave it up. The family then moved to McLean. But Fran needed something to do! So, she and a partner started a property management business and, true to form, Fran dove in with a vengeance, eventually co-creating a successful property management business overseeing 200 homes.
In 1995, Jeff became ill and was placed into a medically induced coma. Fran put everything aside and became Jeff’s medical advocate with the aforementioned fierceness. Lucky Jeff. For three months, day after day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Fran sat in the Georgetown University Hospital intensive care waiting room (a small alcove in front of the hallway elevators) on a hard plastic chair, leaving only for two days when her son begged her to take a break and swore upon pain of death he would watch over things.
Fran paid attention to every detail, and in fact caught mistakes by the otherwise exceptional medical team, one or two of which might have been truly consequential to Jeff. Fran was on watch, and she was absolutely not to be trifled with! Her son remembers one nationally prominent pulmonary specialist, 6’4” in height and famous for having an ego potentially larger than his frame, looking down at 5’5” Fran Warren, repeating as though it was a mantra—“Yes, Ma’am. Yes, Ma’am. Yes, Ma’am” before skedaddling back to Jeff’s room to fix something Fran had noticed amiss.
Fran was a force of nature when necessary, and fiercely protective of those she loved. You always knew where you stood with Fran, whether you might like it or not!
In 1997, Fran and Jeff retired to Fran’s parent’s waterfront home near Painter Point outside Kilmarnock. Fran’s father and uncle built the original portion of the home in 1946 when her father moved there to become a crabber on the bay. Fran’s “retirement” included designing and overseeing the construction of a 5,000-square-foot addition onto her parent’s four-room home and becoming a volunteer for the Northumberland County Animal Shelter.
But volunteer doesn’t really begin to describe what Fran did at the animal shelter. When Fran started at the animal shelter, it was a small, two room cinderblock building, maybe about 600 total square feet with a less than stellar reputation. Fran was damned well going to change that place! She immediately recruited similarly devoted volunteers and they were off and running. Well-supported by Sheriff Wayne Middleton, whom Fran adored, Fran and her army changed every nook and cranny and aspect of the shelter and the way the animals were treated, raised funds, cajoled (aka berated) leaders and build a modern, state of the art, multi-thousand-square-foot facility. They used not one dollar of tax payer money. The force of nature again made her mark.
When Fran loved you, you knew it. Though encouraged by Fran to be independent, her son can’t imagine growing up feeling more loved than he was by Fran (Fran may have regretted teaching the independence—when Ryan asked her at 17 to sign the papers to let him join the Army, she initially refused; then when he moved to Colorado, she was not at all pleased). Fran’s love and fierceness and independence and feistiness is sorely missed.
Fran is survived and badly missed by her son, Ryan Warren (Wendalin Whitman) of Aspen, Colorado; step-granddaughter Leilah Whitman; and too many cousins to mention in Williamsburg, though one does deserve to be named—Gene Hoar. Known as “Genie” to Fran, Fran lovingly credited Genie with protecting her many times at school as a young girl. It is hard to imagine Fran needed protection!
In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Kilmarnock Volunteer Rescue Squad or the Kilmarnock Volunteer Fire Department.