If you passed Mike Becker on the street, you wouldn’t guess he was a philanthropist in any sense of the word.
Philanthropists come in many shapes and sizes. The most common image we have is of a wealthy, aging donor who supports the arts or perhaps an alma mater.
Becker, 49, didn’t come close to matching this description. Nearly penniless when he died May 23, 2008 after a long, debilitating struggle with the complications of diabetes, he had kindness imbedded in every cell of his body.
The love of his life was Influent, the thoroughbred he used to own but for whom he was forced to find a new home due to financial problems. Influent, who is healthy and happy today, won nearly $1 million before his retirement.
Becker was well known in racing circles. He frequented the tracks at Monmouth and Belmont. At one point, he worked as a groom for Genuine Risk, the Virginia filly who is the oldest surviving winner of the Kentucky Derby.
Injured when he was hit by a tractor-trailer, he became partially paralyzed but recovered to a large extent over time. A settlement from the accident enabled him to buy and train some horses. However, he gave away most of his winnings and often provided unsuspecting employees with on-the-spot cash bonuses for jobs well done. He in effect ran his own informal version of a children’s charity, allowing kids to pick a favorite horse and then giving them a portion of the earnings. He spent very little on himself.
Becker’s legacy lives on in the fans of the great 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, who was euthanized in 2007 due to complications of laminitis. When the former thoroughbred owner’s story of medical and financial woes hit the site most frequented by the Fans of Barbaro (FOBs), they mobilized to try to unite him with Influent.
Unfortunately, he died without seeing Influent again. Through the selfless efforts of one woman, Colette Mulhall, Becker’s plight reached hundreds of readers. He is undoubtedly watching over many animals today. And the FOBs will keep his memory alive in thousands of acts of kindness to animals, some random and some orchestrated.
Rest in peace, Mike Becker.