The founder of Canterbury Park was eulogized Friday night as a husband, father, friend, business partner and man of insight, humor and good will.
Fields impressed a wide range of people with his outgoing personality and friendly manner. He was a man who accomplished what others sometimes wouldn’t attempt. A polished raconteur, he loved entertaining family and friends with his countless stories, but many of those he dealt with on a professional level got their first look at him as a family man during the eulogies presented at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church.
Fields was able to solve problems, partly because he treated everyone the same, regardless of their status or position. His ability to cross boundaries with ease and grace, even in death, was illustrated at his memorial service — officiating were pastor Laural Lindberg, a Lutheran minister, and Father Bernard Coughlin, a Catholic priest.
Brooks Fields, a man who knew nearly nothing about horse racing, joined forces with Santa Anita Race Track executives, built Canterbury Downs and brought pari-mutuel horse racing to Minnesota in 1985.
He did that in “retirement.”
Previously, he had a long and varied business background. He was an executive vice president of Burdick Grain Co for 29 years and was a grain merchandiser for Pillsbury Mills as well. A Yale graduate, he was a Chinese interpreter with the U.S. Army in China during WWII.
His business and professional persona have been publicly documented. He also revealed a personal side in two books he wrote. But another side to the man was brought to life by family, friends and colleagues during the Mount Olivet memorial.
Rick Fields talked about a light-hearted side as well as the many aphorisms he learned while working with his father in the grain business.
Among the tried-and-true words of wisdom Rick learned from his father:
“Anything well bought is half sold.”
The axiom that produced laughter in the large church gathering was this one:
“One fool can buy more than 10 wise men can sell.”
Brooks Fields III read a long, affectionate letter from one of his father’s college roommates.
Other colleagues described Fields as “the straw who stirred the drink, the consummate family man, a father, husband, friend and leader in Minnesota.”
Rick and Brooks Fields III talked about how the family worried about their father after their mother, Martha, died in 1999.
The answer to their concerns, both sons agreed, was Lucy, who married their father eight years ago and cared about and for him to the end.
Lucy had been a long-time friend of Martha Fields, and Rick talked about receiving a call from his father one day eight years ago. “He wanted to know if I thought it would be OK if he married Lucy,” Rick said. “I told him ‘yes.’ Then, he asked me, ‘what are you doing next week?’/”
Fields was 89 when he died last Monday and had been in failing health for several months. He was at Canterbury Park on June 7, the day of the Brooks Fields Stakes, but left early due to fatigue.
He contemplated his own end in the days and weeks preceding his death.
“He was ready to go,” Lucy said during the visitation Friday. “He talked about what a wonderful, rich life he had and how fortunate he had been for so many years.”
Fields had many ways of expressing the lessons and gifts of life.
The first race meet in Minnesota was met with record crowds and acclaim from horsemen. Fields sized it up simply:
“We were kissed by an angel,” he said.
It seemed to be his favorite expression whenever anything fortuitous occurred.
“He was easy to approach and talk to,” said Nat Wess, Canterbury’s director of racing and man in charge of the Claiming Crown. “He wasn’t like other bosses I’ve had.” Wess was a vice president/assistant general manager under Fields.
The first season at Canterbury went so well that Fields and the Santa Anita Operating Co. added on to the grandstand, but then _ due to the arrival of other forms of gaming, the state lottery, a deaf ear from the state legislature regarding Canterbury needs and financial difficulties with partners _ an inexorable decline began. Fields and Santa Anita were forced to sell in 1990, and he was troubled by the true intentions of the new owners and the uncertain future of the racing establishment he helped build.
Until the arrival of the Sampson family.
He considered his racing project in good hands and was able to rest easily once the track was purchased by Minnesota people whose primary aim was live racing. He included a chapter about Canterbury in his second book, assuring all that the racetrack was in good hands under the Sampson stewardship.
“Coming from the man who built the place, that really meant a lot to me,” said Randy Sampson. So did the fact that he and Fields were the only people to share the titles of president and CEO at Canterbury.
“Gracious is the perfect word to describe him,” Sampson said. “I was impressed that he always made sure to introduce Lucy, his wife. I’ve never seen a man who displayed more affection and respect for his wife.”
Fields’ friend Billy Bye, the former University of Minnesota and NFL running back, spoke during the memorial at Mount Olivet, and summed up what people took from their associations with Fields:
Bye said that Fields taught them “to love your spouse more, to be better friends with their children and to be nice to everyone you meet.”