Sam Grossman has made hundreds of friends during his 20-year tenure with NYRA. He works hard at pleasing people and keeping his friendships in tune. Just ask Dewey Walling; they met a dozen or more years ago, during Sam’s first season at Saratoga. “I was at the races co-sponsoring an event. We became instant friends- before his eventual celebrity,” said Walling. “Sam took an instant shining to my mother. When I would bring her to the track, he would call out to her through the crowds, Genevieve (with the French pronunciation, even though she is of Italian decent). My mom became an instant celebrity when Sam made such a fuss over her.” The two friends joyously reminisced about dinners together at Walling’s house, late night jazz sessions and summer fun. Their friendship now knows no season; they get together all through the year.
Genevieve last attended the races in 2009, but that doesn’t mean she misses special treatment from her old friend, Sam “The Bugler.” On August 31, Dewey Walling did what he does every day, visited his mother at the Wesley Care Center in the Wesley Community. On this special day, Sam was by his side, and yes, with his horn in tow.
The great staff at Wesley was ready for them and had their audience gathered. Sam greeted everyone and proceeded as if on stage at Carnegie Hall. He spun off several tunes Genevieve (Guzzy) Walling likes best – “You Made Me Love You,” “Till There Was You,” “I Got the Horse Right Here,” and the music just kept right on flowing, along with lots of fun commentary. But there were tender moments too, like when after playing “Sentimental Journey,” Sam spoke about his mother, who died on August 31 in 1996. He reminded us that Princess Diana also died on August 31, and gave pause to remember the great things this beautiful lady did for humanity.
Next came several songs from “Oklahoma!” and Sam added a genuine theatrical touch to “The Surrey With a Fringe on Top.” The audience agreed there is really nothing as wonderful as LOVE. He moved on to “Westside Story,” more tunes from “The Music Man” and back to “Guys and Dolls.” Sam worked for audience participation and got it when he asked for help with the words to “Luck be a Lady Tonight.”
“A lady doesn’t leave her escort
It isn’t fair, it isn’t nice
A lady doesn’t wander all over the room
And blow on some other guy’s dice.”
I wish I’d had one of Sam’s bobblehead dolls there, but truly nothing more was needed than his talent and passion for entertaining. He enjoyed telling the group about the time Paul McCartney came to town (NYC) to join Billy Joel in the last concert held at Shea Stadium. Some of us turned our minds to the Beatles, but for Walter Taylor, it lent excuse to tell Sam he was a Red Sox fan. Sam, the quintessential Yankee fan had fun with that and then broke into song with “Sweet Caroline.”
About this time Walling brought in what looked like a racing scene. “My mother made this hat for one of the special luncheons Mary Lou (Whitney) did at the track,” he told us. So naturally Sam began to play “Call to the Post.”
Few people work so hard to make something special of their job, even fewer bring so many tools to the table. Sam is a classically trained musician and has a pedigree steeped in music. His mother was a trumpet player in jazz bands in the 40s; his sister plays the violin and has both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Juilliard. Sam’s twin brother, Irving, plays professionally for David Berger Big Band, Max Weinberg and occasionally fills in for Sam at the races. Sam himself taught music at C.W. Post College before coming on board at NYRA in 1992. He’s a pretty salty chess player and a perpetual student of music and life. The vibrancy which surrounds racing fuels his fires.
Sam puts his heart in what he does, he practices “Call to the Post” so that it’s perfect each time he plays it and he works equally hard at being a good person. His gift is making his work fun for himself and everyone around him. The visit to Wesley was expressly for his friends, but it was not his first time there, nor is he a stranger at Ronald McDonald Houses, Anna House or a lot of other places where taking the time to extend love and kindness can mean so much.
On September 14, Genevieve Walling will celebrate her 94th birthday. Sam “The Bugler” will be downstate calling the horses to the post at Belmont Park, but you can be sure her son will be by her side, right where he wants to be.
Genevieve has been in the skilled nursing facility at Wesley since 2009.
With the racing season ended and lots of questions surrounding what may be coming down the pike for NYRA, I think it’s important to take note of Genevieve’s racing history. It’s representative of thousands of people. As Walling told me, “In earlier days, mom would enjoy coming to the track with my dad (now deceased) and her brother Steve (also deceased). They came for the fun, excitement, and social aspects mostly, but you could always count on my mom to bet $1 for the favorite to SHOW!”
This is a story about love, loyalty, and friendship, a tale about following your bliss – and it all started at the races. Many great stories do!