Alan Burnet was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary life according to many who crossed his path both professionally and socially during his long life.
A great man who was highly respected in every field he was in, Burnet died peacefully in Whanganui in late July at the grand old age of 101.
Born in Whanganui in 1921 and educated at Whanganui Collegiate before taking a job at the Whanganui Hospital as a clerk and training to be an accountant in the late 1930’s. World War II saw him train and serve as a navigator in the Mosquito Squadron and after the war he joined the staff of the Whanganui Chronicle where his future father-in-law was the Managing Director.
He married Loraine in 1946 and they shared a wonderful life together till she passed away last year, raising two children - a daughter Liz Parker and a son Rob. Burnet remained at the Whanganui Chronicle progressing through the ranks to Managing Director.
In 1964 when burgeoning media tycoon Rupert Murdoch acquired a controlling interest in the Wellington Publishing Company home to The Dominion, he shoulder-tapped Burnet to invigorate the struggling morning daily. The following year they launched the Dominion Sunday Times which subsequently became the Sunday Star Times, and soon acquired the biggest selling newspaper in New Zealand - The Truth.
Many more mergers followed, commencing with the Waikato Times, followed by the a surprising merger with traditional competitors the Blundell Brothers Wellington Evening Post, which led to the formation of Independent Newspapers Limited (INL Print) where he was Managing Director until 1983 and chairman for a further 10 years. INL Print had a stable of racing publications including, Friday Flash, Racing Calendar, Trotguide, Best Bets, Turf Digest and Hoofbeats, and it was Burnet’s influence and love of racing that kept racing on the pages of a number of daily papers over the years.
Burnet’s son Rob, publisher and editor of the racing news website thoroughbrednews.co.nz, recalled his father always had an interest in racing and it was something he learned at the feet of his father.
“Dad learned his love from his father and I learnt it from him. I can remember listening to the scratchings on the radio on a Saturday morning with him and when I was old enough attending race meetings with him,” he said.
“It wasn’t until he was professionally secure and had the disposable income to be involved that he ventured into racehorse ownership and eventually breeding.”
A friend and business colleague at the Waikato Times introduced Burnet to a young couple he knew. Sue and Nelson Schick who had recently established a stud farm, and that was the start of a very memorable and successful partnership.
“He was a lovely man, he became a very close friend as well as a client of the stud,” Sue Schick recalled.
“Nelson and I bought a lovely Vain filly at the Sydney Easter Sales about 40 years ago and a mutual friend introduced us to Alan as a potential partner, and it just went from there. She was a good filly we had some fun racing her and she went on to be a wonderful broodmare who created a dynasty.”
Lovenvain won three races and was placed at Listed level. She was the dam of nine foals, eight to race and seven winners including the dual group one winner Golden Sword (by Kaapstad). He won the AJC Epsom Handicap and the VATC Toorak Handicap and was third in the MVRC W.S. Cox Plate, and his sister Greta Hall a triple listed winner.
She was also the dam of the listed winner Balmoral Keep (by Balmerino) and Madam Valeta (by Palace Music [USA]) a Group Three winner and dam of the Group Two winner and successful stallion Falkirk (by Tale of the Cat[USA]) and Mulan Princess (by Kaapstad) herself the dam of the Australian Oaks winner Royal Descent.
Greta Hall is the dam of the stakes placed winner Angelica Hall and is the grandam of the listed winner Fox Hall. Angelica Hall remains in the Windsor Park broodmare band and is the dam of the stakes winning mare Angelic Miss (by Savabeel).
“I think we has some glorious successes especially campaigning Greta Hall and Madam Valeta in Australia,” Burnet’s son recalled.
“He took an enormous amount of pleasure form the success of all the horses he bred and their progeny through the years. He was uniquely fitted for the racing industry and was modest and gracious in success and defeat.
“Overall he took great satisfaction of being with people of all walks of life, he was just as happy in the company of a strapper or a leading trainer. He also loved watching Golden Sword race in Australia.
“In the days since his death so many people from different walks of life have told me how approachable, charming, and approachable he was.”
As well as a successful partnership with Windsor Park, Burnet also raced a number of good horses with his son Rob and good friends Alan and Colleen Jackson, including Irlanda, Centapin and her daughter Rose of Virginia.
A funeral was held for James Alan Burnet in Wanganui last weekend, and while his good friend Nelson Schick was unable to attend he did send a very poignant message.
“We do not pass many great vessels in our lives but I was lucky enough to pass one, Alan Burnet. For this I will always be forever grateful. A very strong vessel with all the software to be kind, generous, loving, considerate, helpful and a great mentor to all. I am in Norway, close to the Russian border so will not be able to see my friend off. My thoughts are with you all. I have great memories”. -Michelle Saba