Gary & Mary West - Game Winner / Maximum Security

Gary & Mary West - Game Winner / Maximum Security

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A victory in the 2019 Kentucky Derby by Game Winner, their 2018 two-year-old champion colt, or by Florida Derby winner Maximum Security, would give legendary philanthropists Gary and Mary West their first Kentucky Derby triumph more than 35 years after they claimed their first horse, Joe Blow, for $13,500 at their home track, Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha, Neb. He would win 23 races for them.

Seventeen years ago, the West’s Gr1 Wood Memorial winner Buddha (the morning line favorite for the 2002 Kentucky Derby), stepped on a stone the morning before the Run for the Roses and was retired.

Just two years ago, they campaigned 2017 Champion Three-Year-Old Colt, West Coast, who missed the Triple Crown but won the Gr1 Travers and Pennsylvania Derby and finished third in the Gr1 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

More importantly, realizing a life-long dream of winning the Kentucky Derby would give back to the Wests, and having spent much of their lives fulfilling Gary’s promise while under fire in Vietnam, Gary shared his story with Bryce Miller in his March 3, 2019, piece in the San Diego Union Tribune: “I told God, `If you somehow get me out of this, I will do something nice for the world.’ I didn’t know what it was, but I said, ‘I’ll do it.’”

The 73-year-old West has repaid that debt many times over, helping multiple thousands of seniors find adequate health care in a confusing, frustrating system that seems to change overnight.

Who could have imagined that a nine-year-old pinsetter in a four-lane bowling alley who later dropped out of college and worked in a meat-packing plant would be able to fund his vast philanthropic umbrella by becoming a billionaire in business?

Born in the small city of Harlan, Iowa—50 miles from Omaha—West was a little kid when he toiled in is parents’ small bowling alley. He remembers dodging pins flying all over the place. When he was older, he worked in a meat-packing plant in Omaha before going to Vietnam with his Army Reserve unit.

When he returned, he tried college but dropped out of Dana College before the first semester ended, landing a job as a staffing coordinator at a hospital in Council Bluffs. He was promoted to assistant hospital administrator, learning first-hand about health care and helping others.

West left the hospital, and with Mary’s help, began West Corporation, a telecommunication company, in 1986. It became one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world with 35,000 employees and $3.5 billion in annual sales when they sold it privately for a reported $1.45 billion in 2006.

Here’s what they did with the money: In November 2006, they established the Gary and Mary West Foundation, a 501(c)(3) private, non-operating foundation funded solely by the Wests to prevent outside influence. The Foundation provides funding to support initiatives which lower the cost of seniors’ health care; enables seniors to successfully age with access to high-quality, affordable health care and support services that preserve and protect their dignity, quality of life and independence. Based in Solana Beach, Calif., the Foundation has awarded 518 grants totaling more than $211 million to non-profits in their current home, San Diego, and their adopted home city, Omaha.

In May 2009, they began the West Health Institute, funding medical research.

In January 2012, they began the West Health Policy Center, offering policy research and education.

They also created the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center, a unique community-based care model providing low-income seniors in San Diego two meals a day and access to more than 30 non-profit organizations and support services. In 2016, they added the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center.

They also opened the Gary and Mare West Senior Emergency Care Unit in La Jolla, Calif., which received a Level 1 Gold accreditation in May 2018.

And they began a national program, Civica Rx, a non-stock, non-profit corporation offering generic medications to combat the ungodly costs of modern medication.

Perhaps most remarkable about their lives, the Wests don’t see how truly remarkable they’ve been—helping a massive number of vulnerable people. “I think most people would do something similar to what Mary and I are doing under the same circumstances,” Gary said in that San Diego Union Tribune story. “So we’re no heroes, but we do hope to be good role models if we can.”

Good role models in Thoroughbred racing for decades deserve a winner’s circle photo on the first Saturday of May. Besides, Gary West has been a game winner his whole life.


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