A Tribute to Bob Witham
by Jennifer Leadbitter, who worked with Bob for many years.
Bob Witham, one of Camden’s most colorful and popular trainers, died on December 17, 2008 as a result of injuries he sustained when the pony he was riding stumbled and fell. A longtime trainer for Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Farm, Bob had the good fortune to train several quality horses for Shadwell, including G1 Belmont winner, Jazil, and G1 Cigar Mile winner, Daaher.
A native of Somerset, England, Bob’s love of horses started at a very young age but didn’t end there, much to his father’s dismay. He was sent off to boarding school at the ripe old age of 6, where he and his older brother were referred to as “Witham Can’t” and “Witham Shan’t,” respectively. He had a million wonderful stories about his years at Ampleforth, some that I can share and some that I probably shouldn’t. There was one about an Irish maid, a rooftop and an open window…you fill in the blanks. While he was there to get an education, it did not seem to dampen his desire for the horses and he told of many afternoons spent in Thirsk, watching the horses run and dreaming of one day becoming a jockey and trainer.
Those of us who knew Bob personally will remember a quirky, funny man with a heart as big as England. A bit of a social butterfly, he hosted some wonderful parties in his home and his Christmas parties were always looked forward to. His memory, or lack of memory, was the brunt of many jokes and he, on more than one occasion, invited friends to dinner and then promptly forgot about it. Of course he was embarrassed but it was impossible to be upset with him for very long. His infectious grin as he opened the door and said “What brings you here?” could wipe away any trace of frustration with him and when he realized what he’d done he’d go straight into the kitchen and start whipping something up, apologizing profusely but laughing at himself all the while.
Generous to a fault, Bob gave freely of his time and money, a trait that I am told he inherited from his mother. He volunteered for Meals on Wheels, delivering meals to the elderly twice a week, and never failed to have a dog biscuit in his pocket for their companions. His dedication to his elderly charges was not limited to two days a week though, and he often dropped by to check on them on his “off” days.
Despite his memory lapses and quirky personality, Bob Witham was a great horseman and I feel fortunate to have worked under him for these many years. He was like a father to me as well as a good friend and I, along with his many, many friends, will find it difficult to fill the hole that his passing has left in our hearts.
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