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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Herbert C. Brenner, 93, longtime dog track official

HERB BRENNER

Lynn Museum & Historical Society

HERB BRENNER

Herbert C. Brenner stood tall as a hall of fame basketball player and coach in high school and college, and also in the eyes of colleagues at Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere.

“When I wanted to impress someone I introduced them to Herbie,” said former Wonderland publicist Bob Trieger. “To me, he was the face of Wonderland. I learned from him how to handle the tough situations in a professional manner and I’m a better person having known him.”

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Starting his career at the track by selling ice cream as a 16-year-old on opening night in 1935, Mr. Brenner spent eight decades at Wonderland and ended as racing secretary and presiding judge in 2008.

Mr. Brenner, a lifelong Lynn resident who was honored in 2010 as one of the city’s “legacies” by the Lynn Museum & Historical Society, died of respiratory failure July 2 in Union Hospital in Lynn. He was 93.

A great athlete at Lynn English High and Salem State Teachers College, which is now Salem State University, Mr. Brenner went on to become a successful head boys’ basketball coach at Lynn Classical High School, where his teams won 258 games and numerous league titles from 1954-77 and qualified for 16 Eastern Massachusetts tournaments. He was a member of the athletic halls of fame at all three schools.

“Dad was just amazed why people admired him so much because he was a humble man,” said his son Gary of Lynn, who worked alongside him at Wonderland charting races and is now executive director of the Lynn Retirement Board. “When the museum included him in its legacy wing that really blew him away.”

An accurate, one-handed jump shooter in an era of the two-handed set shot, the 6-foot-2 Mr. Brenner tried out for the first Boston Celtics team in 1946, but was a late cut by head coach John “Honey” Russell.

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Along with being captain of the basketball team at Salem State Teachers College, Mr. Brenner played first base and was captain of the school’s first baseball team.

He was a basketball and baseball coach at Billerica and Beverly high schools before moving to Classical, where he also directed the school’s business education department until 1980. The high school gymnasium is named after him.

“Herb Brenner perfected the art of great sportsmanship – on the court and in the classroom,” said a Lynn Legacies biography of Mr. Brenner prepared by the museum. It added that “for Herb, success wasn’t measured in wins; it was measured in the quality of his players and their love of the game.”

His honors include the Lynn English and Classical High Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award, the inaugural Robert Pierce Award for coaching and sportsmanship by Board 130 of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials, and the North Shore Coaches League Outstanding Achievement Award.

At Wonderland, for many years called the premier greyhound track in the country, Mr. Brenner was affectionately called “Uncle Herb.” A wooden walkway that connected to the roof of the track where he sat above the finish line was dubbed “Brenner Pass.”

“No one was more respected at Wonderland than Herb, and no one was more fair in his decisions, and he was an encyclopedia of everything Wonderland,” said Bob Temple, author of “The History of Greyhound Racing in New England.”

George Carney, a friend who is treasurer of Raynham Greyhound Park, said Mr. Brenner “was considered the top racing secretary in the country when Wonderland was in its prime. He had a nice way with people, showed no favoritism, and always had a first-class crew.”

Phil Castinetti, who helped train the great greyhound Downing in the 1970s at Wonderland, called Mr. Brenner “all business when it came to his profession and on top of everything, but always with a smile on his face. No question, he was a legend at the track.”

Mr. Brenner also was a legendary storyteller.

In 2000, he told the Globe that when the greyhound Rural Rube retired, a chauffeur-driven limousine with a police escort took the dog, who won 19 of 22 races in 1938 and 1939, to a testimonial dinner at the Copley Plaza hotel. A black tie gathering of 1,500 watched him polish off a tenderloin steak with a linen napkin tucked in his collar.

Mr. Brenner graduated from Lynn English in 1935, received a bachelor’s degree in education from Salem State Teachers College in 1940, and a master’s degree in business education from Boston University. He served in the Army’s military police in Puerto Rico during World War II.

When Lynn English and Lynn Classical merged for one season to cut costs in 1961-62, Mr. Brenner coached the old rivals to an 18-win season.

In his final season coaching he nearly went out on top. His 1976-77 team was 15-3, shared first place in the Northeastern Conference, and advanced to the Eastern Mass. Division 2 semifinals before losing.

His son Stephen was captain of the Lynn English team when Mr. Brenner coached Lynn Classical in the mid-1960s.

“My mother rooted for my dad, and my dad, deep down, rooted for me,” said Stephen, who lives in Salem. “We beat them every time my junior and senior year, and he actually hugged me during a time out because he was proud of how I played.”

While Stephen was in college, he worked at Wonderland, as a lead out and usher. Live dog racing stopped in 2009; the track closed the following year.

Mr. Brenner’s youngest son, Neal, died in 1998; his wife of 64 years, the former Elaine Leavitt, died last year.

The couple met at Fisherman’s Beach in Marblehead.

“When they were dating, he picked her up at her home in Brookline in a red truck that he drove for my grandfather’s junk business,” Gary recalled. “That must have been quite a sight.”

A service has been held for Mr. Brenner, who in addition to his sons, Gary and Stephen, leaves a sister, Marilyn Bach of St. Paul; and a brother, Robert of Beaverton, Ore.

“He was a gentle, honest man who did favors for everyone, and never expected anything in return,” Stephen said. “To this day, people ask me, ‘Are you Herbie’s kid?’ And that’s the ultimate compliment.”

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.

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