Downtime: Spinning a yarn with Margaret Hardy (and her goats)

Margaret Hardy at home with a goat. (Jonathan Spiers)

Margaret Hardy at home with one of her goats. (Jonathan Spiers)

When Margaret Hardy purchased her 45-acre farm in southern Caroline County four years ago, the attorney and shareholder with downtown law firm Sands Anderson was looking for a central location from which she could bounce back and forth between the firm’s Richmond and Fredericksburg offices.

What she got with the deal – along with a lot of land, and an 18th-century farmhouse she spent a year renovating before she moved in – was an opportunity to take her lifelong love of weaving and spinning wool to the next level.

Now president of the firm – the first female president in Sands Anderson’s 175-year history – Hardy spends some of her free time spinning wool from her own flock of eight Angora goats, which share the farm with two livestock guardian dogs, one companion dog, two cats, a guinea pig, six chickens, “and about three dozen groundhogs that have taken over,” Hardy laughed.

Having knitted since her childhood, Hardy said she always wanted to learn to spin her own yarn, finally taking up the hobby after completing some classes at the Hand Workshop, now the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.

“It was just a natural, if weird, progression to have farm fiber animals from that,” Hardy said. Laughing, she added: “I have a pin that says: ‘Spinning, because knitting isn’t weird enough.’”

With the wool from the goats, which are sheared twice a year – they’re scheduled for a shearing today, in fact – Hardy makes scarves, hats and rugs to give to friends and family and adorn her house. But she also takes pride in creating the yarn, which she dyes herself after skirting, cleaning and scouring the wool – mohair, specifically.

Some of the spinning wheels that fill Margaret Hardy's farmhouse. (Jonathan Spiers)

Some of the spinning wheels that fill Margaret Hardy’s farmhouse. (Jonathan Spiers)

“When I first started spinning, people would sometimes say with the yarn, ‘What are you going to make with it?’” Hardy’s response at the time: “‘I made it! This is it! I’m done!’

“I haven’t made a sweater. It’s daunting,” she said. “I do knit sweaters, but to start with what’s in the field and come up with a sweater, that would be a big undertaking.”

Laughing, Hardy added: “I do sometimes use that skill to say, when the zombie apocalypse comes, I can make us sweaters.”

As if her apocalypse survival skills and 20-year law career weren’t impressive enough, Hardy also spends her time riding horses and motorcycles – she has a Ducati Monster, and plans to get a horse – and is also a registered nurse and has an MBA.

She got her nursing diploma from Johnston-Willis Hospital School of Nursing in 1979 and worked primarily in psychiatry until 1992, when she entered law school. Along the way, she picked up a bachelor’s degree in business with a finance concentration from the University of Richmond in 1986, then her MBA in 1993 from Old Dominion University.

She got her law degree from the College of William & Mary in 1995, joining Sands Anderson as a summer associate and then as a practicing attorney for four years. After a stint in D.C., Hardy returned to Sands Anderson, which she has been with now for collectively 20 years.

Having served in multiple leadership roles – she’s managing shareholder of the Fredericksburg office, chair of the firm’s healthcare practice and a member of the firm’s business and professional litigation group and government group – Hardy was elected to Sands Anderson’s three-person board of directors last year and was named president by that board at the start of this year.

Two of Hardy's goats were born in March.

Two of Hardy’s goats were born in March.

As the first woman president in the firm’s lengthy history – it was ranked last year as the oldest business in Richmond – Hardy downplays the achievement but acknowledges the milestone, as well as the opportunities and responsibilities that come with it.

“Personally, I think it will be something when nobody will notice whether it’s a male or a female, but we’re a ways from that,” she said. “I think it says a lot about the firm, to have been around as long as we have and still be one of the first of our size to have a female president.

“I’m mindful of the responsibility, and there is obviously some additional obligations, pressures. But it’s absolutely an opportunity – not just for me, but I would hope for other women in Sands Anderson,” she said.

Having resided for years in the Bellevue neighborhood in Richmond’s Northside, Hardy started shopping around on Google for farms. The one she purchased – called “The Grove,” complete with a 1740 farmhouse and personal water tower, no longer in use – ended up being the only one she looked at, in large part for one sentimental reason.

“When I walked in, there was a spinning wheel in the house,” Hardy recalled with a smile. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, this house is meant to be mine.’”

Hardy has added to that inventory with additional looms and spinning wheels, many of them filling one of the house’s large rooms. While her tools of choice, as well as the farm, are literally miles away from her day job downtown, Hardy said her hobbies do weave their way into her work life, if primarily to provide a sense of balance.

“I love the tactile nature of it, and there’s something very almost meditative about it that I like,” Hardy said. “I sometimes say, at the end of the day at the office, you don’t always really have anything to show for it, so I appreciate that balance – of doing something in exactly the same way it’s been done for thousands of years.

“I just think that it’s important to have a balance,” she added. “I think it makes you a better attorney, and a better human being, if you have a life outside the office.”

Watch Margaret Hardy with her goats and the tools she spins their wool with:

Editor’s note: This is the latest entry in our ongoing Downtime series, which focuses on business people’s pursuits outside the office. If you, a coworker or someone you know around town has an exciting or unique way of passing time off the clock, drop us a line at [email protected]. For previous stories from our ongoing Downtime series, click here.

POSTED IN Editor's Pick, News

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