Andrew Donovan Looney, who grew up in Unison and recently fulfilled a long-time dream of living and working on a cattle ranch, died on Friday, April 30, 2021, in a one-vehicle accident near Cody, Nebraska, where he had become a valued member of the staff at the sprawling Rocking J Ranch in the northwest corner of the state.
Andrew, 22, was a graduate of The Hill School and Middleburg Academy. He finished his college studies remotely while also working full time at the ranch and was scheduled to graduate with his class on May 15 from Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, PA, with a degree in agricultural management.
Andrew was born on March 28, 1999, in Winchester, VA. He was truly at home outside enjoying nature, horseback riding, lacrosse, hunting and fishing and hang- ing with family and friends.
He didn’t know a stranger.
He grew up fox hunting with Middleburg Hunt and Piedmont Fox Hounds where he also worked. While working at the Piedmont Hunt, he not only cleaned the kennels and worked with the hounds but he also cleared trails, fence lines, and built horse jumps.
That’s where he realized he would never be able to have a traditional job or working behind a desk. He liked being on the various farms in Loudoun and Fauquier counties and became interested in eventually working in farming.
He started at Rocking J last summer as an intern on the 50,000-acre ranch, owned by one of the nation’s premier cattlemen, Jerry Adamson.
After two months of working with the cows, the bulls, the calves and the beloved horse he rode, Andrew was offered a chance to stay on full-time. In an interview on a brief visit to Virginia last fall, he described his new job as the “opportunity of a lifetime” and exactly what he always dreamed of doing, going all the way back to his elementary school days at Hill School.
Andrew is the son of Gregg and Mary Guest Looney and grew up riding horses, including time in the hunting field. He worked with cows at Whitestone Farm in Aldie while he was attending Middleburg Academy and during summer breaks from his studies at Delaware Valley, where he was enrolled in the school’s agriculture business program.
Bob Vantrease, a family friend who lives in Upperville and is a retired cattleman himself, had known the Adamson family for years and helped arrange Mr. Looney’s internship that started on June 1, 2020.
“He’s a great kid,” Vantrease said of Andrew last fall. “I’ve known the Adamsons for more than 50 years, and he’s in great hands. He’s going to the largest cattle county in the U.S. They’ve got 165,000 cows and only 6,500 people. They love him. He’s an eastern boy and he loves the west. And he’s having the time of his life.
Andrew worked with Jerry Adamson’s son, Todd, who eventually offered him the full-time job. Todd and his wife, Stacy, welcomed Andrew in as part of the family. He lived on the ranch and quickly became a part of the community.
“It was supposed to be a summer job, just to see if I liked it out there,” Andrew said. “After about a month, I was talking with Todd about finishing school. Todd said if I could finish my degree online and I’d like to stay, we could work it out.
“Out there, everything is done on horseback,” Andrew said. “It’s beautiful, wide-open country. You have help, but there’s lots of times when you have to fig- ure things out yourself. Sometimes, you just have to make decisions on your own.”
Andrew adjusted to his new job right from the start.
“When I first came out here, I was a little nervous,” he said. “I didn’t know anybody, I was a long way from home. But these are just some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and that makes it easy to move across the country. This is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
This is branding season at Rocking J Ranch, and the Adamson family held a Cowboy Memorial service during one of four branding sessions on Tuesday, May 4. During the ceremony, Andrew’s horse was led out, fully saddled but with no rider. There also was a sunrise service at the ranch the next morning.
Back in Virginia, a celebration of life service for Andrew will be held on May 18 at 11 a.m. at the Whitestone Farm in Aldie. The family has indicated that informal attire, including jeans and cowboy boots, are welcome. Planning is underway to start a scholarship in Andrew’s name at The Hill School in Middleburg Virginia, as well as in Nebraska, and Pennsylvania, with details to still to be determined.
Andrew is survived by his parents, Gregg and Mary Guest Looney of Unison, his sister, Chloe, two brothers, Henry and Owen, and three grandparents, Janet Looney of Philomont, Patricia Gilbert of Churchville, Md. and Edgar Looney of Fairfax, too many family members to name, the love of his life, Tatiana (Tati) Jones, of Cody, NE and an abundance of friends from school, lacrosse, hunt fields and cattle farms east and west.