Longtime horseman, Howard "Buck" Norris of Pinehurst, N.C., died peacefully at home Sunday, Oct. 18. He was 87.
Perhaps best known as the trainer of Governor Skipper, one of the great pacers of the mid-1970s, Mr. Norris campaigned the William Wirtz-owned stallion through a three-year million-dollar career against the likes of such titans as Rambling Willie and Whata Baron.
More than half of his career earnings came during his 3-year-old campaign, during which he won among others, two legs of the Pacing Triple Crown: the Messenger and a straight-heat, world record victory in the Little Brown Jug while also becoming the fastest sophomore pacer on any size track to that time. The homebred son of Meadow Skipper was rewarded that year both with divisional honors and a herd of goats purchased by owner Wirtz as a sort of good luck charm and reward for every high profile win. Unfortunately, the stallion was not particularly fond of goats.
Mr. Norris, who raced primarily on the New York and Grand Circuit, started his last horse in 1999, but remained active in retirement breaking colts in Pinehurst with his son Scott until 2007.
A World War II Navy veteran, Mr. Norris is survived by his son Scott, daughter Becky, their spouses and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife of 53 years, Jo Lois Norris.
“My dad was from that generation of horsemen, who no matter how successful they were, treated everyone from a groom to the biggest owner with the same respect and civility,” said Scott Norris.
“He loved what he did, but he loved his family and friends more,” added Becky Norris. “He was a genuinely, kind and lovely person and we miss him.”
A memorial service will be held at the Congregational Church of Pinehurst on Linden Road, Saturday, Oct. 24, at 11:30 a.m. with the Rev. Brent Bissette presiding. Family will receive friends in the church fellowship hall following the service. Norris was cremated and his ashes will be scattered over his beloved Pinehurst track.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Feral Friends of the Sandhills, P.O. Box 807, Pinehurst, N.C. 28370.