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Bob Sheheen retires from race association

Posted: March 30, 2015 11:43 a.m.
Updated: March 30, 2015 11:42 a.m.
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Sheheen

Bob Sheheen recently retired from the Carolina Cup Racing Association.

Many people are sad to see him go – but they also agree that after 38 years of steadfast service -- virtually all of it pro bono -- the man has probably earned a little time off.

That his service to the racing association and later the National Steeplechase Museum has been nothing short of vital goes without saying, say those who know and have worked with him over the years.

"Bob was the person with his hand on the tiller and guided the committee through many important changes after the death of Marion duPont Scott, the owner of Springdale Race Course and Chair of the Association," Austin Brown, a long time member and founder of the National Steeplechase Museum said. "Bob engineered the change of ownership from Mrs. Scott to the State of South Carolina, with the Carolina Cup Racing Association becoming in full control of the property. He also wrote all new by-laws for the association.

Sheheen, true to form, downplays his importance personally but acknowledges the work of both organizations is important, worthwhile, and valuable to the community and to the state. A long-time believer that opportunity begets opportunity, he said he is grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with both organizations, has enjoyed serving, and like everything else he has done, knew it was time to step aside and let others take over.

"I think everybody has a time in which they participate, then when you feel like you’ve made your contribution, you should get out of the way and let someone else do it. I’ve always felt that way about most activities – church, community, government – and I’ve been fortunate to be able to do the things I’ve done."

And he has done plenty, as an attorney, as a politician and as a civic minded, community oriented volunteer.

Interestingly enough, while he has lived most of his life in a place steeped in equestrian traditions and presence, indeed, spent nearly the last 40 years lending his prodigious talent and energies to the equine industry, he has personally never been particularly interested in equestrian activities in and of themselves.

"I think my one and only experience with riding was as a little kid getting on a pony for a picture at a birthday party," he said. "I don’t think I even attended a Cup until I was an undergraduate at Duke University."

Still, once bitten, the bug never quite leaves the system and Sheheen said he has enjoyed his share of days at the races over the years.

"I’ll still be out there in it, enjoying it," he said.

But his work behind the scenes is a major reason for the continued success of the races, especially after the death of Marion DuPont Scott. In fact, a good argument could be made that the great time most people have on race day is direct benefit of everything Sheheen has done for the CCRA over the years.

"Bob was a stellar member of the Carolina Cup Racing Association Board," Hope Cooper, Assistant Director of the Carolina Cup Racing Association and former Director of the National Steeplechase Museum, said. "I always relied on his steady and practical leadership - always delivered with a wry sense of humor. He was the first to pledge for building the addition to the National Steeplechase Museum, and though not a horseman, capably advised and assisted the Association for over 30 years."

As an attorney working with the Savage Law Firm, now Savage, Royall & Sheheen, L.L.P., he said he learned about and became involved in the local equine industry and functions because the firm handled the South Carolina related affairs of Marion duPont Scott, an heir to the duPont fortune who was deeply passionate about all things steeplechase. It was duPont Scott who built the racetrack and practice track on Knights Hill Road, starting a spring tradition known as the Carolina Cup in the 1930s, then later, adding the Colonial Cup, one of only a handful of Class 4 Steeplechases – races that offered a purse of more than $100,000 – in the country.

"She would invite foreign horses and riders to the Colonial Cup – the top horses and riders in the world – and would pay their expenses here," Sheheen said. "It was and is a truly international racing event."

When Mrs. duPont Scott died, she left the race course to the State of South Carolina on the condition that it would be used for steeplechasing in perpetuity and operations would be controlled by the Carolina Cup Racing Association. She also left $1 million in a trust fund for operations.

The income generated by the trust fund was to be used to maintain and improve the racecourse. Over the years, the income generated has decreased with the bond market and the association has relied more on ticket sales and sponsorships, he said.

The SC State Legislature passed an act accepting the gift under duPont Scott’s terms – in large part because Bob Sheheen, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time – was able to help write the legislation and get it passed.

As a member of the board of the racing association, his legal and political expertise, coupled with his experience working with Mrs. duPont Scott’s affairs, it fell to Sheheen to draft the bylaws for the organization.

Later, when the National Steeplechase Museum was founded, he would do similar work there, even spearheading the effort to build the new wing to the museum in 2013 and making the lead gift for that effort.

Sheheen said he is ready to move on to something else, but as yet does not know what that something else will be.

"Probably retirement," he said.

Nonetheless, just because he is retiring from the Racing Association doesn’t mean he’s retiring from the race.

"I’ll be out there enjoying it," he said.

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