Hello Darlings –
We write this with tears in our eyes and a heavy heart. One of the finest men WE have ever known passed away this week… Hope you will allow us to share the memories of a close, dear friend…
JOHN R. STEELE was larger than life. He was the horse world’s edition of JOHN WAYNE, CLINT EASTWOOD and maybe a bit of PAUL NEWMAN all rolled together… Always a straight shooter. Always honest. Always a man’s man.
JOHN R. STEEL grew up on a farm in upstate New York and lived the life of a typical farm kid of the era. At a very young age, he could drive a team of work horses to plow fields, make hay, milk cows and do all the chores needed on the farm. He was used to hard work because that was just the way he was raised .
His love of animals and the country life led him to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.
THE WAR necessitated a four year curriculum be crunched into three years. He graduated from vet school in 1946 – before most of us were even born.
No sooner had he graduated from Cornell University than he was teaching there as many of the professors had been drafted for the war effort. As a young vet, he drove the country roads taking care of cows, pigs, horses – any animal in need of help. In those days, money was tight and his clients were game to experiment for anything that might get their animals healthy again – DR. STEELE said it was like having his own lab.
DR. STEELE ran the “spit box” at several New York standardbred race tracks. He also began treating many standardbred race horses He was to become the busiest veterinarian on the trotting horse scene, with clinics in Pompano Beach, Florida…. Lexington, Kentucky… and his hometown of Vernon, New York. His clients won all the fancy races, year after year….He traveled to Europe for clients to evaluate their yearlings – often looking at hundreds of young horses which would later be shipped to The United States to race. Clients said it was amazing how a year after looking at their yearlings he could comment on conformation and behavior of most of the babies he had seen the year before.
HIS FRIENDSHIP with JOHN MADDEN brought him into the horse show world – what a stroke of luck for us !!!
For so many years, DR. STEELE took us all under his wing. For him veterinary medicine was a 24 hours a day 365 days a year love affair… There weren’t any holidays in the STEELE ASSOCIATES practice.
HE was never too busy to hop on a plane or climb into his trademark Suburban and head out to wherever he was needed. From New York to Florida… Vermont to California he was there.
He had amazing people who worked for him over the years, JACK MUMMA, BILL STANTON & SARA COLE just to name a few. They drove all hours of the day or night… Set up the drug trays and scrubbed legs and backs…Directed the grooms how to hold the twitch and bend a horse’s neck – making sure DR. STEELE was safe as he treated a horse…. They made sure he had lunch…
HE certainly was not easy to work for but what a dedicated group of foot soldiers DR. STEELE had!!
DR.STEELE made all his clients better horsemen. He taught as he treated.
WE all became part of his team to provide the best care possible for the horses.
If a new client did not show enough interest or spend the time caring for a horse ” Doc’s Way” he would politely suggest the client find another veterinarian.
THE list of clients and horses reads like a Who’s Who of the sport. Olympic Medal winners, National Champions, International Showjumping stars all profited from his lifetime of experience. He kept the hunters and equitation side of the sport ticking like a fine tuned clock. He took the same care of a backyard horse who never stepped into the showring.
DR. STEELE loved to teach… He enjoyed putting his stethoscope on a small child’s ears and showing them how to listen for the heart beat or gut sounds…. He got a kick out of having small child help scrub the horses legs…. He asked what we thought and took our hands to show where the heat or swelling was…. He taught each of us how to judge the soundness of our own horses and we became part of our horses’ wellness.
He brought a whole new meaning to the words physical therapy – endless icing, walking, magnetic blankets, acupuncture – it was endless but it worked! It usually meant hiring another groom to help out and it always was worth while.
He did some old fashioned things that many of us thought were a little crazy – until they worked.
He also told us when the horse had reached the end of it’s career and there wasn’t anymore fixing – these were often tearful meetings for all.
HE was often gruff and cranky… He loved a good joke…. He loved the girls and married quite a few. He hugged all the girls so tightly they thought they might never breathe again!!! He liked to make a small wager on football and basketball games… He never sugar coated a problem…He was always on time and expected the same of his clients… He genuinely loved the horses – sometimes more than the owners!
He always put the horses first – always… He never stopped learning and his ego never too large to ask for help if he wasn’t sure of a diagnosis… He listened to everyone from the grooms to the farriers to the trainers.
We send condolences to his wife SUZANNE and his family.
A memorial service will be held for DR. JOHN R. STEELE on Monday, March 13, 2017. It
will be at the Palm Beach Polo Club. 11198 Polo Club Road, Wellington, Florida.
PLEASE RSVP to: firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to attend.
There is a scholarship fund being set up in his memory … Donations may be sent to : JOHN R. STEELE, DVM, ’46 Memorial Fund….. c/o Office of Alumni Affairs, Box 39, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 14853.
His clients should flood the University in memory of our friend.
All too often the words ” greatest or best ” are tossed around… But in DR. STEELE’S case they are absolutely right on.
He was the best and greatest…. And he will be missed by those who knew him.
Godspeed Dear Friend….
BUFFY and NELL