Jean Emerson, who had been involved in almost all aspects of harness racing for nearly half a century, passed away on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, at Seal Rock Healthcare Facility in Saco, Me. at the age of 93.
In addition to breeding, training and racing Standardbred horses, she was also the founder of the very successful harness racing publication Northeast Harness News.
Born Jean Boomer on May 9, 1930, in Lubec, Me., Emerson actually knew very little about Standardbreds until she reached adulthood. Her exposure to the sport came when, as a junior in high school, her father took her to the Blue Hill Fair.
Always a lover of horses, her interest grew after she married Chet Emerson and they moved to southern Maine. In addition to becoming actively involved in the sport, she was also raising three daughters and working as a teacher, having earned a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Maine.
She retired from teaching in 1980. The Emersons began racing their horses in the late 1960s, and by 1970 they were owners of a breeding farm in Saco. Their homebreds raced throughout the New England circuit including Bangor, Lewiston, Rockingham, Suffolk, Foxboro, Scarborough and the fairs.
In 1985 they started racing at Pompano Park in Florida and continued to do so every winter. In 1973, having become aware of horsemen’s problems, Emerson became a charter member of the Maine Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association (MSBOA). She served as its secretary for the first five years during which time she worked with others on a position paper to be presented to the Maine legislature establishing the funding for what would become a successful state breeding and stakes racing program.
In order to make horsemen more aware of possible solutions to their problems, Emerson began publishing a monthly MSBOA newsletter. Because mailing the newsletter became expensive for the association, she decided to start a newspaper with advertising to cover costs.
Thus, came into being the Northeast Harness News, which for approximately the next fifteen years would keep New England horsemen and their families up to date about issues important to their livelihoods.
Working with limited funds and a small volunteer staff, Emerson created a publication that was well-read, insightful and entertaining. It was circulated not only in the Northeast but also in almost every other harness racing state.
She functioned as editor, publisher, staff reporter, photographer, advertising manager, layout artist and bookkeeper. Each winter the Emersons would drive to Florida and stop along the way to distribute copies of the paper at tracks and training centers.
Jean decided to cease publication only when she realized that computers and the Internet were becoming the most efficient way for horsemen to obtain current and relevant news.
A member of the United States Harness Writers Association’s New England chapter from 1980 to 1995, Emerson transferred to the Florida Chapter for which she has served as secretary, vice president and president. She had taken a leading role in planning and promoting the chapter’s annual awards dinner, the funds from which enabled the chapter to provide scholarships to college students interested in harness racing journalism.
Emerson was also instrumental in the establishment of the Florida USHWA chapter’s Aime Choquette Sunshine Fund, which in times of need provides relief for Florida horsemen.
The Emerson’s 60-year marriage ended in December of 2010 when Chet passed away after a long battle with bone cancer. Jean has continued to be active in the sport, attending qualifying races, keeping abreast of new stock, encouraging and congratulating new drivers, discussing all aspects of horsemen’s issues and politics, be it racing and slots in Maine or the horsemen’s contract at the Isle Pompano Park.
She promoted the Florida Chapter’s awards dinner by selling tickets and ads in the backstretch at Pompano Park and at other training centers in the state.
A member of the New England Harness Racing Hall of Fame, Emerson was also honoured by the Florida Chapter of USHWA with its Allen J. Finkelson Award in 2004 for positive promotion of the sport, and its Delvin Miller Award in 2008 for good will and integrity. Emerson was also inducted into the Florida Harness Racing Hall of Fame’s Communicators’ Corner in 2010.
The Florida Chapter of USHWA best summarized her devotion to Standardbreds with its statement, “Jean Emerson continued to promote the sport of harness racing to everyone she met as she had always celebrated the industry that had defined her life.”
Jean is predeceased by her husband Chester W. Emerson, parents Earle L. Boomer and Edna R. Milligan, and brother Jay Boomer.
Jean is survived by daughter Janet A. Emerson of South Carolina, daughter Nancy L. Sullivan of Missouri, daughter Linda M. Emerson of Maine, sister Priscilla of North Carolina, grandson Robert B. Emerson of New Hampshire, grandson Jared M. Chapin, and grandson Jamie N. Chapin.
Please join Standardbred Canada in offering condolences to the family and friends of Jean Emerson.
(USHWA Florida Chapter)