written by Dr. Roberto E. Reid
edited by Lydia M. Reid
Roberto “Bobby” Reid was born November 12, 1930 at the Hospital Santo Tomas in Panama City. His parents were Esther McDonald and Exley Neilson Reid. His mother’s parents were from the Caribbean, of Jamaican and Cuban origin and his father came from British Guiana. His paternal grandparents were East Indian mother and Scottish father, hence the name Reid. His sister Norma, now deceased, eventually married to Gabriel “Pipo” Alfaro ( a former Jockey at Juan Franco and who was instrumental in getting him to start riding). Her second marriage was to Enrique Griffo who is alive and well and living in Panama. His brother Exley Reid was named after his father and passed away in 2009.
Bobby grew up around the old Juan Franco racetrack. In fact, he lived about two blocks from the grandstand, across from some of the stables, in 306 Via Brazil. As a child, all of the kids were exposed to horse racing, the stables and the like. Part of his childhood consisted in going around the stables and participating in the care of the horses. Practically all of the kids in the group at one time or another made an effort to become jockeys. Some actually rode professionally, but very few succeeded. He was equally unsuccessful on his first try and never thought he could do it, so he continued with his schooling (Instituto Nacional).
One day upon returning home from school, his brother-in-law, Pipo Alfaro, who was one of the best jockeys around, unbeknown to him, placed him on a mount for the weekend race. He notes here that there was only racing on Saturday and Sunday, so going to school and riding was perfectly possible. He decided to give it another try and came in second! That convinced him that he could be successful.
After that, he dedicated himself to improving. He was fourteen years old and weighed 74 lbs., and his whole career as a jockey was ahead of him. He practiced a lot, trying to get his legs stronger. He rigged up a saddle on a wall in his house and spent countless hours practicing and getting better in simulated races. As he got stronger and “more experienced” he soon started winning races on a more consistent basis.
He was “discovered” by Henry “Takeaway White,” a transplanted Jamaican who was one of the best trainers with one of largest stables in Panama. He was training the horses for Antonio Anguizola, a wealthy farmer from Chiriqui. He admits that Takeaway served as a mentor and father figure for him at that time and he owes much of his success and development to “Takeaway” as a jockey.
There were always newspaper writers, radio announcers and very prominent West Indian people who helped promote this association. One Mr. Harrison wrote for the Panama American and other English speaking newspapers, and saw that he got proper credit for his successes. At the same time some of the Panamanian sport writers like Chelo Gonzalez, Johnny Bonny and the like tried not to give him the full credit he richly deserved. So, that proved to be an interesting time from this standpoint as well.
He attended High School in Panama at the Insituto Nacional and attended the Universidad de Panama for two years, prior to leaving for the US. While completing his studies at the Institute, he enjoyed some of his best years as a jockey. His temptation was to quit school and just continue as a jockey, but his mother always insisted that he continue with his education, which he did, and upon graduation he entered the University of Panama for two years.
As far as memories of being a student in Panama are concerned, he says he was dealt with in a very routine fashion by most teachers despite his popularity as a successful jockey. In one subject, mathematics, he was failed he believes because the teacher wanted to show him that “he was not a big deal.” He was also a good catcher in the baseball league at the Institute; he recalls, in fact, being asked to play for one of the playoff teams after his team had been eliminated. He also started sketching classes while in school in Panama and he has now resumed drawing again.
Bobby relates that he got into racing because all the kids in the neighborhood were doing it. The one jockey who influenced him the most was his brother-in-law, another jockey, Gabriel “Pipo” Alfaro. By far his other greatest influence was Henry “Takeaway” White, the trainer who took him under his wing and was always supportive of him, win or lose.
He migrated to the US in 1949. The primary reason was that he was growing too tall and it was very difficult to continue riding. Making the required weight of 110 lbs was a tough chore for him, he admits, involving dieting, water restriction, sweat boxes, jogging etc. On Sunday evenings after the races he would gorge myself with food and water and start the whole dieting routine again the following week.
He chose to go to the United States because he had an aunt in the Bronx and of course the reputation of an education in the US was tops then. He attended NYU for the 4 years and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with an almost straight A average. It had been his intention to study veterinary medicine (for race horses only) but he was not accepted in the veterinary school at Ithaca, Cornell University, which was the best veterinary school at that time. If you consider that he had almost an straight A average from NYU and had been a jockey for 5 years, it was obvious to him why he was not accepted.
His advisor at NYU told him “they” had done him a favor and he should apply for medical school instead. He did and was accepted at several medical schools including Georgetown University, University of Chicago, Meharry and Western Reserve Medical School, in Cleveland. He chose the latter. He graduated with his medical degree in 1958 and subsequently did his residency training at Cleveland VA Hospital, Philadelphia General Hospital and Albert Einstein College in New York. He chose Urology because it involved surgery, medicine and significant patient involvement, more so than most other specialties. He has always thought he made the right choice in terms of his specialty choice.
There were many interesting memories related to his medical school experience. He recalls a funny incident while working part time as an orderly in the Pathology Department while going to medical school. One evening, about midnight he received a call to take a cadaver out of the morgue in the elevator to the autopsy room since this had to be done at that time for religious reasons. He put the body on the gurney in a completely desolate basement and wheeled the gurney onto the elevator but it would not function.
Each time he got off to check on why it would not function, the elevator would take off with the body to the sixth floor autopsy room. Needless to say, he was quite concerned and very scared. This happened about five times, at which time he was ready to get out of there. He then realized that there were two gate/doors to the elevator- only one was closed. Apparently there was a weight sensitive mechanism. It would work with one gate only closed but only with the weight of one person. If two were on the elevator, both gates needed to be closed. He closed the second gate and everything worked fine……What a relief!