03/09/2017 7:29PM

Giwner: A final goodbye to Sam McKee

USTA Photo
Sam McKee was inducted into the Harness Hall of Fame in 2012.

While writing about harness racing is my passion, in times like these when I’m forced to cover the untimely passing of perhaps the most beloved man in the sport, all of the joy is swept away by sorrow. Sam McKee, who passed away on Wednesday (3/8) due to complications from a major stroke, was truly unique.

While I can’t recall the first time I met Sam, he certainly left me with many a lasting memory. I know for a certainty he would hate my headline and the fact that I called him “great,” but he was that caliber of man. As one to rarely dole out compliments (as my wife will attest), on multiple occasions I went out of my way to tell Sam what a great job he was doing and how much I appreciated his passion for the sport. He didn’t ask for praise, but it just felt right.

Over the past 10-15 years I’ve had many occasions to chat with Sam. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, even when it came to certain industry characters which almost everyone had some negative thoughts about in the back of their heads. I believe once he sort of grimaced, almost non-verbally agreeing with the negativity but refusing to lower himself to the level of degrading someone.

We all know he was a master track announcer that not only relayed the facts but also brought insight as to the strength of the horses and tempo of the race. He was also the best on-air host in the business. Sitting next to Sam on a broadcast was like taking batting practice from a slow pitch machine tossing grapefruits – he made it easy on you.

Personally, he gave me opportunities to contribute on-air at The Meadowlands. He even left me alone on the set at The Meadowlands one night when fellow announcer Ken Warkentin got sick during the card. Having never done an in-house broadcast solo, I was somewhat concerned, but Sam threw me confidence and assurance, “You’ll be great, Derick. You’re a natural.”

Sam also provided me with the opportunity to call a race at The Meadowlands. As an on-again off-again announcer over the last 20 years, it was a dream to be on the microphone at the Mecca of harness racing and I could not have realized that goal without Sam.

As a bit of a contrarian, I always wonder when people die why the coverage is always positive, but in Sam’s case it is simply because there is no negative to discuss. Just as I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anyone, I’ve also never heard a bad word said about him. He was a special man, one I will miss dearly and think about often for the rest of my life.

Rest in peace, Sam.

Funeral arrangements are as follows: Sunday, March 12 at Newbaker Funeral Home in Blairstown, N.J. from 1-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.

A service will be held on Monday, March 13 at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepard in Blairstown at 12 p.m.

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