Saturday, January 22, 2011

Beth Garner: Farrier Industry Legend Goes on Ahead

I took this picture in Australia. The Hunter Valley was flooded when Beth and I were visiting, but our host, farrier Billy Neville, still needed to get into a big stud farm. Life had to go on in the Hunter Valley, so the farm had strung a suspension foot bridge over the raging river so that employees could get to work.

I knew better than to look down. I've seen all the Indiana Jones movies. I know what can happen.

So I did what I had always done: I followed Beth's lead. She just strode right onto that rickety, swaying bridge. I took a deep breath and put one foot on the boards, then the next. The apprentices behind us lugged all the farrier tools and equipment and we must have looked for all the world like a horseshoeing safari. As we neared the end of the bridge, I got up the nerve to let go of one of the ropes and take this picture.

Two things proved to be true of so many years, when it came to following Beth: 1) it never failed to lead me into an adventure; 2) it was always a good idea. I'd be sure to learn something. I didn't really follow anyone else.

Beth has now gone on ahead. Way ahead. She died this week in her beloved home town on the California coast. She leaves GE Tools in the capable hands of her son. She leaves me wondering what it will be like with no one to follow, or whether it's time to take the lead she always thought I should take.

"You want to go first?" she'd say in Chantilly or Newmarket or Christchurch or Scone, whether it was crossing a bridge strung from trees or walking into Francois Boutin's racing stable or climbing up a castle's stairs on one of Edward Martin's tours of Scotland.

I always let her go first, or made her go first, or hoped against hope that she'd volunteer to go first. That way I could follow behind so that at times like this I could remember what she might do or how she'd act or where she would have lead us next.

Beth Garner, aged 93, was the long-time public face of her family-owned GE Forge and Tool Company, makers of fine farrier tools. She took the company global in the 1980s, before global was the accepted way to go, and was the first American that many people in the farrier world in other countries ever met because she simply went where they were, wherever that was. She didn't wait for them to come to the USA.

Few people know that Beth Garner was also the impetus behind the founding of Hoofcare Publishing, the initial investor in the company, and the most trusted adviser. In her retirement, she transitioned easily out of business traveler mode and drove the length and breadth of the USA in a motorhome and went on expeditions to places like Antarctica. 

Among Beth's non-business accomplishments were donations of her time and resources to the farrier world. She organized annual meetings of farrier school educators who had never even spoken to each other before, and put up the seed money to form the American Farrier's Association's equine research fund, and served on the first board. She also helped form the Farrier Industry Association and supported virtually every farrier education event in North America and many in other countries.

Beth always claimed to not know anything about horses, though her travels took her to the finest farms and stables and races and shows in the world. She was just as impressed with the horses at a county fair as she was with the jumpers at Hickstead. 

What Beth knew about was people, and how to go around the world and always be invited back. She found doors in solid walls, made grumpy men who couldn't understand a word of English smile in spite of themselves and crafted distribution deals for GE Tools on restaurant napkins that are probably still honored. Her business card could have read: Trailblazer, ambassador, innovator...and trusted friend to all. Especially me.
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Martin D. Kenny said...

It is so sad to think of Beth leaving our midst. She was a classy woman that always had time to listen. She was kind of like a Mom to all of us in the early days of AFA conventions. Hers was a face that we all looked for as soon as we arrived. She will be missed for certain.
Martin D. Kenny CJF RJF
Carthage, NC

Anne Feary said...

Fran, What a beautiful memorial for you friend. Of course, I never met Beth, but I feel like I know her now, and what an inspiration.

Thank you,


Anonymous said...

Dear Ms Jurga,,

I am saddened to read of the death of your friend. You have shared your heart and it is a beautiful testament to the person she was and you are.