British Columbia owner and horsemen’s association executive Bryant McAfee, 76, passed away May 2 and left behind an enormous following of friends and admirers whose lives he touched and changed.
McAfee, inducted into the British Columbia Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 2008, was the longest serving executive of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of B.C. He began serving as secretary-treasurer for the HBPA of B.C. in 1970 and served until his retirement last August. He also served as secretary-treasurer of the HBPA of Canada in 1978 and continue to serve until his passing, according to family members.
He also was recognized internationally for his tireless work in counseling individuals with alcohol and drug problems within the horse racing industry.
His substance abuse program at Hastings Racecourse evolved into the North American-wide Winners Foundation. Its success led to McAfee being the first-ever recipient of the Industry Service Award from the North American body of the HBPA.
“Bryant absolutely changed a lot of people’s lives, I mean a lot of people,” said horse owner/trainer, attorney and HBPA of B.C. director David Milburn. “He made the male populace at Hastings better husbands, better fathers and better employees. And he did it quietly.”
Joe Gray, manager of racing operations and official starter at Hastings Racecourse, referred to McAfee as “the most incredible man I have ever known”.
“It was 19 years ago when this guy showed up in a snow storm to make sure my second Alcohol Anonymous meeting went as scheduled,” Gray said. “At the time he was a big, powerful man in the accounting community and he was there for me on that lousy winter night, making sure I was okay. Bryant helped more people than anyone will ever know. I was one of them.” Gray remains active as a councilor in the Winners Foundation at Hastings Racecourse.
McAfee’s skill in accounting is what brought him into the horse racing community. He had just quit working for Gardner and Co. in 1970 when Reg Ellett, president of the B.C. Thoroughbred Breeders Society, asked him to look into some suspicious bookkeeping practices by one of the office employees. He did such a commendable job that HBPA president Ken “Sonny” O’Connell drafted him to audit the horsemen’s finances. McAfee was soon serving on the HBPA board to fill a spot when another board member became ill.
When he first took over as director, he did the job “working out of my back pocket from my office downtown.” It became a full time account in 1995 and about nine years ago he moved into his current office at Hastings Park grandstand, near the main entrance.
It was in 1995 when McAfee was elected a Fellow of the B.C. Institute of Chartered Accountants. The honour is bestowed on those who have provided distinguished service to the accounting profession.
Retiring last December, he always maintained that his most satisfying experience had been helping to foster a positive level of communication between horsemen and track management.
“He was one of the finest gentlemen I have met in the industry,” said Raj Mutti, regional general manager, BC Racing. “His word was golden anytime we talked business.”
McAfee is survived by his wife Ethel, three children and two grandchildren.