Joseph Pons Sr. touched a lot of people in his life, from breeders and racetrackers to prisoners he helped rehabilitate at a nearby detention center. Hundreds of those people from all walks of life turned out Monday at the Pons family's Country Life Farm north of Baltimore to celebrate the life of the beloved Marylander who died last Wednesday at the age of 83.
From three o'clock in the afternoon when the memorial began to well past sundown, friends and associates lined up along the porch and down the stairs into the front yard of the main residence to share their memories of Joe Pons. Mary Jo, his wife of 55 years, suffered a broken arm the morning of her husband's death, falling while running to get help after the family patriarch suffered a massive heart attack while in bed reading a newspaper around 8:45 a.m.
Others swapped stories about Pons, listened to music played by a local entertainer, and munched on crab cakes inside a large tent in the yard. It was very much like the Preakness week parties Joe and Mary Jo Pons have been throwing for years -- with one important ingredient missing.
"Dad would have liked this," said Josh Pons, who runs Country Life with his brother, Michael. "It's a happy and sad day for us."
Saturday's Maryland Million at Laurel was dedicated to Pons, who ran the farm with his late brother, John, following the 1951 death of his father, Adolphe, the founder of Country Life Farm in 1933. Adding to what was an emotional day for the Pons family was the unexpected, 16-1 upset victory by a Malibu Moon
filly they own, Surf Light, in the Maryland Million Ladies. "I didn't really think she had any chance," Josh Pons said. "I think we got a little help from a higher power."
Joe Pons wouldn't have missed the Million and certainly would have joined the festivities in the winner's circle. Those were two of the axioms he lived by, as noted in a framed poster put together by Eva Lydick and hanging on a wall inside the tent.
-- "Never miss a day of racing if you can help it!"
-- "Don't pass up free food."
-- "Always have a joke or quip on hand -- a pun will do."
-- "Try to get into as many winner's circle pictures as possible -- each one makes you a tiny bit immortal."
-- "Go to Saratoga every August."
-- "When you win, buy everyone a fried chicken dinner!"
-- "Treat everyone as an old friend."
Joe Pons had plenty of friends.