Odds on Racing (1/13/12)
Contact: Robin Schadt
RIP Bob Larry
Bob Larry passed away.
One of the finest gentlemen I have ever met. He started working at Maywood Park in 1946, the opening year.
The greatness of the man was that he helped so many people in the racing industry that he knew could offer him nothing in return.
Odds on Racing's
Personality of the Month for March 2005
Maywood Park assistant Racing Secretary has lived or worked in and around Chicago's half-mile oval for nearly all of his 81 years. Born in Oak Park, Illinois and one of three siblings, Bob has been one of the most steadfast and every-smiling faces to great horsemen for seven decades.
Bob graduated from Proviso High School in Maywood, located on First Avenue just a few miles south of Maywood Park racetrack. He attended Northwestern University for two years and planned to make Accounting his major, but Uncle Sam came calling in the early 1940s. Bob enlisted and by the end of 1942 was a proud member of the United States Army Air Corp (before there was a U.S. Air Force). He spent the next three years as a pilot preparing to fly B24s and in January of 1945 found himself flying these World War II bombers in runs from England to France and Denmark.
"We flew transports of OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) agents to various parts in Europe," Bob recalled. "When the war ended I was in Biarritz, France, and then came home in October of 1945. I signed up for the Reserves then."
Looking for employment, Bob strolled over to nearby Maywood Park and found a job as a parking attendant at the newly opened racetrack in 1946. He also took a job as one of three timers at the Chicago half-miler.
"We got ten dollars a night for our efforts," Bob remembered. "That was good money back then."
In 1947 Bob also went to work as the assistant horsemen's bookkeeper for Sportsman's Park after a chance meeting with Charlie Bidwell (father of Stormy Bidwell) at a local tavern.
When the Korean War began, Bob was recalled (in 1950) and was assigned to Okinawa as a co-pilot on a B29 for six months on bomber command. After that stint he returned stateside and to Maywood Park in his previous positions. He also landed jobs with Ted Leonard and John Jenuine as Racing Secretary of Surburban Downs (then raced at Maywood) in 1955, and as an association judge. He also worked in the mutuel department in the afternoons.
"Back then we raced from April 15 through October 15," Bob said. "I worked a triple-header on many occasions."
Bob married his wife Alice in 1958 and a son Robert and daughter Karen soon joined the family. By 1959 Bob had also secured a position as associate judge at Aurora, through his friendship with Pete Langely (Phil's father).
|Bob Larry at work in the Maywood Park racing office.|
"My father, Rocko Larry, also owned horses at the time," Bob said. "He had trainers like Eddie Brinkman and Red Stein Sr. My dad used to send horses to Hawkinsville, Georgia with those guys for winter training. He'd get a bill for a month's training for $70.00 a month. That was in 1955. He had horses like Attica Girl and True Jay, who was in the top class here. That's when we used the old 'A, B, C' system. Actually, True Jay, died in a race here at Maywood Park and is buried somewhere in the infield."
Interestingly enough, Bob still has a copy of those mid-20th century training bills, and is happy to produce one that he keeps in a drawer in his office at Maywood.
During the 1960s Bob was working at nearly all of the Chicago harness racing venues, including Washington Park, as an assistant racing secretary to Larry Marsh. When Marsh left his post, Bob took over the role as Racing Secretary at that long-defunct raceway. In 1967, Bob and his family moved to Hinsdale, and have lived in the same house at the western suburban location since then.
"I've just always worked somewhere at some track," Bob noted. "I've worked in nearly every department at these tracks, but my favorite place has always been in the racing office. The people I deal with is what I enjoy the most, and also the fact that for the most part, I've been able to work kind of independently in here."
While Bob says he's seen many changes over the years, "basically, the business has remained the same."
"I worked under that 'A,B,C' system for a lot of years," Bob said. "I never thought this current system would work, but it has. Of all the tracks, Washington Park was probably my favorite. I didn't care much for the drive, but I liked the atmosphere of the place. It had a country-like setting to it and had a lot of open areas. You never felt congested there at all."