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Donald V. Little, horseman and stockbroker; at 77

Janet Knott/Globe staff/file 1985

Donald V. Little, a former president of the US Polo Association, died doing what he loved.

Investment manager Donald V. Little of Ipswich had a ready comeback when worried friends questioned whether a man his age should be hurtling over fences on horseback in equestrian competitions.

“Listen, kid, this isn’t a dress rehearsal. You have to take a shot in life,’’ Mr. Little once told Camille Valentine, one of his former proteges on the stock trading desk at UBS Wealth Management, where he worked for the company and its predecessors Kidder, Peabody & Co. and PaineWebber for 48 years.

Mr. Little, a charismatic figure in horse racing, polo, and fox hunting circles who was master of the hounds at the Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton, died Feb. 29 in Wellington, Fla., from injuries he suffered when his horse, Superiur, fell while jumping in the Winter Equestrian Festival. He was 77.

“He was a man with a big bucket list. He wanted to do it all and he tried,’’ his longtime friend and polo partner Summerfield K. Johnston Jr. of Chattanooga told hundreds of mourners who gathered Thursday for a memorial service at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church in Danvers.

Amid baskets of white lilies and roses, Mr. Little was remembered for his joie de vivre, his relentless drive, and his love of a good day in the stock market. He used to ring a bell on the trading desk at Kidder Peabody when a newly purchased stock took off, and he sometimes quipped he was “singing and dancing through the streets of life,’’ Valentine said at his memorial.

A former president of the United States Polo Association, he survived tramplings on the field, suffered a severe concussion in 1974, and once lost some teeth when his mouth met a polo mallet on the field.

His career as a top Boston stockbroker also survived his former client Ivan F. Boesky’s confession to insider trading in the 1980s. The scandal cost several New York executives with Kidder Peabody their jobs, and the company paid a hefty fine. Mr. Little’s name hit the headlines as he faced questioning from federal prosecutors and regulators, but he was never charged. Kidder Peabody was sold to PaineWebber in 1994 following a bond-trading scandal.

Charles A. Stillman, who was his attorney during the investigation, said Mr. Little cooperated with authorities and was never accused of any wrongdoing.

“Everybody understood he was just a man of great integrity, a total straight arrow,’’ Stillman said. “He became my broker and we had a great run together.’’

At Mr. Little’s memorial service, Dennis Dammerman, a retired executive of General Electric, which took over Kidder Peabody in 1986, recalled watching Mr. Little weather the storm as the firm he joined in the 1960s traded hands and eventually lost its name, which had been a part of Boston for a century.

“Don never left his office. He just changed the sign on the door,’’ Dammerman said. “For Don, it didn’t matter whose name was on the door . . . He worked for his clients.’’

A consummate salesman, Mr. Little moved with ease among different social circles and made friends easily, his friends said. “He was a man of many stories - some of them true,’’ Johnston quipped. “He was as much at home in Saratoga sitting with the leading lights of racing . . . as he was sitting on a wagon hunting birds in Tennessee, talking to the wagon driver.’’

Mr. Little also was a pioneer in syndicated horse racing. He established Centennial Farms Management Co. in 1982 with a small group of thoroughbreds owned by individual investors.

“I took a hard look at racing to see what was the smart way to go and I discovered that a few made a lot of money while most did not,’’ Mr. Little told the Globe in an interview. “The top end of the spectrum was the Phippes and Farrishes and so forth, the families, and the advantage they had over me was that they had a lot of capital to invest in breeding.’’

In 1993, a horse owned by the Centennial Farms partnership named Colonial Affair won the Belmont Stakes with Julie Krone aboard. She was the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown race.

Mr. Little was born in Pittsburgh. His father, Douglas, was from Wales and his mother, Janice Vaughan Snow, was a Boston debutante and accomplished equestrian rider who served in World War II as a volunteer nurse and plane spotter.

Mr. Little’s parents divorced when he was a child. His mother married Lieutenant Colonel Crocker Snow, an aviation pioneer. The family raised Donald and his siblings in Ipswich.

At Mr. Little’s memorial service, Crocker Snow Jr. fondly recalled his big brother as a mischievous youth. “He would go out the window well after dark and put the fear of the Lord in me if I ratted him out,’’ Snow said, feigning fear of a post-mortem reprisal.

Mr. Little’s love of aviation came from his stepfather, according to his family. Mr. Little enjoyed flying a single-engine 1947 Navion he inherited from the colonel, who was a bomber pilot during World War II. Mr. Little served in the US Air Force’s Strategic Air Command. He became a captain and was one of the youngest aircraft commanders flying B-47 bombers in the 1950s.

The Myopia Hunt Club heralded Mr. Little as an inspiration. “Mr. Little was dedicated to hunting and actively promoted its ability to teach young riders the value of open space, and to bring equestrians from all disciplines a new outlook on the joys of a good gallop after hounds over beautiful country. He sought out any willing rider and generously provided them a horse and a quick lesson on the hounds and protocol,’’ the club said on its website.

Mr. Little and his wife, Judith A., had been married 57 years.

“I will miss him so much,’’ she said in a statement. “Donald died doing what he loved. He was loved and respected by so many people, including his fellow competitors, partners, and team members in the horse worlds of polo, field hunting, show jumping, and thoroughbred racing, as well as in all other aspects of his life.’’

In addition to his wife and brother Crocker of Ipswich, Mr. Little leaves a son, Donald Jr., and a daughter, Andrea, both of Ipswich; a sister, Patricia Little Moseley of Hamilton; a brother, Andrew J., of Chipping Norton, England; and four grandchildren.

At the close of Mr. Little’s memorial service, huntsman’s horn-blowing champion Brian Kiely blew the haunting sounds of “Gone Away,’’ a traditional call sounded in hunting when the hounds have gone to ground.

Burial was in Hamilton Cemetery.

J.M. Lawrence can be reached at jmlawrence@me.com.
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