Irving Liverman, who died on April 29 at the age of 94, was blessed with good fortune both on and off the track during his long life. Mr. Liverman, a.k.a. Lucky, owned a stable of trotters and pacers that won some of the most prestigious harness races in North America. The modest businessman, who lived a charmed life, transformed a tiny light-bulb business into a thriving multimillion-dollar enterprise. He also survived on two occasions when airplane accidents might have claimed his life, further confirming the presence of an auspicious horseshoe that defined his life.
The second child of clothing-factory foreman Herman Liverman and the former Ruth Rutenberg, Irving Gordon Liverman was born on Jan. 22, 1923, in the Town of Hampstead, on the island of Montreal.
He attended West Hill High School, but at the age of 17, in 1940, he was determined to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. His enlistment was a point of contention between the teenager and his mother, Mr. Liverman's daughter, Carol, recalled. "His mother was upset because he needed her to lie for him and sign a document stating that he was 18. She didn't want to, but my father was adamant."
He eventually wore down his mother and began training as a pilot in 1940. When he was later scheduled to be deployed overseas, however, Mr. Liverman was nearly crushed to death in a fluke accident at an army base in Ontario. He was in a phone booth inside a hangar when a taxiing plane clipped a support beam that came loose and crashed down upon on the booth where Mr. Liverman was talking on the phone. His skull was fractured, his son, Herb, said. "A metal plate needed to be inserted into his head, and he remained in the hospital for several months."
After the war, Mr. Liverman married a former West Hill classmate, Shirley Bronstein, and he began importing light bulbs and distributing them out of the back of his car. He eventually turned that modest operation into Super Electric, a $35-million-a-year business that imported and distributed household appliances.
In 1969, Mr. Liverman was introduced to Montreal racehorse trainer Roger White. When Mr. White inquired if he'd be interested in partnering on the purchase of a young filly named Keystone Wish, Mr. Liverman, who rarely visited the racetrack, agreed.
His daughter remembers the afternoon when she accompanied him to inspect the horse, in which he had just invested $4,500. When they arrived at the stables, both the father and daughter were caught off guard. A mare trotted out of the stable wearing a victor's blue ribbon. "But she was old and feeble and my father and I looked at each other, and I knew he thought that he'd made a huge mistake. Then laughter broke out among the stable hands and trainers, and the old mare returned to the barn. Then the real Keystone Wish was escorted out for us."
Although Keystone Wish never developed into a champion, Mr. Liverman's curiosity was piqued, and he doubled down on his investment in 1971 when he and Mr. White put down $9,500 for a horse named Silent Majority. The yearling burst out of the gate with eight straight wins. Silent Majority won 17 victories in his first 21 races, on his way to becoming one of North America's most celebrated pacers.
Tragedy struck the partnership in September, 1971, after Mr. White invited Mr. Liverman to accompany him on a private flight to a yearling sale south of the border. Mr. Liverman considered the offer but his mother reminded him that the trip would interfere with the Jewish high holidays, so Mr. Liverman declined the invitation. Mr. White, however, went ahead with his plan and died when his plane crashed in the Pocono Mountains.
Two years after Mr. White's death, a small bone fracture ended Silent Majority's racing career. The stallion headed into retirement to stud in Kentucky, where he sired a champion named Abercrombie and was syndicated for more than $2-million, providing financial security for Mr. White's widow and children.
Following the advice of Billy Haughton, who would become a Hall of Fame trainer, Mr. Liverman followed up his purchase of Silent Majority with a filly named Handle With Care. She won her first 24 races; a performance that garnered Mr. Liverman his nickname, Lucky. By the time Handle With Care retired, she was the fastest and richest pacing mare in harness-racing history.
Mr. Liverman spoke with genuine affection about her during a conversation with Hoof Beat writer Dean Hoffman circa 1990. Mr. Hoffman noted how "Liverman loved seeing her long legs gobbling up ground. … She wasn't the prettiest thing ever to look through a bridle, but he came to love the filly with the long face." Mr. Liverman remarked that she had the ugliest face on Earth, but that he wanted to buy some more ugly ones just like her.
When asked about his success at purchasing champion horses, Mr. Liverman once answered, "I never found any yearlings. I left that up to my trainers. I told Billy [Haughton] that the minute he started selling electric fans, I'd start picking out my own horses. And Billy never ever did sell any fans."
Along with his son, Herb, who worked with his father in both the appliance business and horse racing, he purchased many more champions, with names like Kadabra, Wild Honey, Windshield Wiper and Bee A Magician. Their stable amassed hundreds of victories at tracks across North America, including some of the sport's biggest races: the Hambletonian, Meadowlands Pace and several Breeders Crowns.
In an article in harnessracing.com, Montreal harness-racing executive Mike MacCormac noted that Mr. Liverman could have sold off his assets and left the sport after a couple of profitable years instead of investing his winnings back into racing. "That's the surprising thing, that he put everything back in the industry. There aren't a lot of people like that."
In 2002, the same year Mr. Liverman was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, he told The Canadian Sportsman magazine that it wasn't the prize money that kept him involved in racing. "You meet such great people in the standardbred business. It's been tremendous for me. I've met so many people who have become life-long friends."
In 2000, Montreal Gazette sportswriter Red Fisher, a friend of Mr. Liverman's for more than 50 years, spoke about one of the breeder's most endearing qualities. "The people he's really friendly with extend from the best doctors and richest people in town to people some would describe as pretty low on the social scale. He's just a great person, a gentleman in everything he does, always quick to help out friends in times of need."
Irwin Liebman, who was a lifeguard at the Hillsdale Golf Club 45 years ago, attested to that kindness and generosity when he shared a recollection on a memorial page recently. Mr. Liebman remembered Mr. Liverman's warmth and generosity. Mr. Liverman, who was the pool's chairperson, had to terminate the lifeguard's contract mid-season.
"It really bothered him. A week later, he sent me a personal cheque for the entire season with the note: You were the best lifeguard we ever had."
After 60 years of marriage, Mr. Liverman's wife, Shirley, died in 2009. Two years later, he suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered.
Mr. Liverman leaves his two children, Carol and Herb; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
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