James E. Clark, an AmTote customer service representative who was responsible for the operation of computer systems and terminals used for parimutuel wagering at thoroughbred race tracks, died Tuesday of cancer at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. He was 79.
Known as "Mr. AmTote," the Mays Chapel resident spent 52 years with the Hunt Valley company and became one of horse racing's most well known and highly respected figures.
He spent his workdays visiting tracks in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Mexico.
A big man with carefully trimmed gray hair, glasses and an ever-present pipe dangling from his mouth, Mr. Clark attended racetrack openings and closings and special racing events, making sure problems didn't occur with the tote machines.
"He was gregarious, warm and generous and a real down-to-earth, decent human being," said Fred Grossman of Monroe Township, N.J., who retired as editor of the Daily Racing Form in 1992. "He always took the avuncular or fatherly approach and was an outstanding representative of the racing industry."
"He was one of the great men of racing and an absolute gentleman of the old school," said Harold Snyder, president and owner of International Sound Corp. in Baltimore, which provides sound and video service to racetracks.
Born in Catonsville, Mr. Clark was a 1939 graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington. He received a scholarship to the University of Maryland, but his father died on his first day at college and he had to quit school to help support his mother and sister.
After working at Bethlehem Steel Corp. and Western Electric Co., he joined American Totalisator Co., a predecessor of AmTote, in 1941 as a wireman in the company's Morton Street plant.
The company was founded in 1932 by Harry Straus, an engineer who bet $10 on a horse at 9-1 odds at now-defunct Havre de Grace racetrack. The horse won but when Mr. Straus cashed his ticket, he received only $36. Bets were handled manually and the clerk miscalculated the odds. So Mr. Straus decided to invent a machine that computed odds, printed tickets and displayed the results electronically.
One of the company's first contracts was at Pimlico Race Course. By 1949, the totalisator was in common use at tracks throughout the nation.
In 1946, Mr. Clark was permanently assigned to the Monmouth Park, Atlantic City and Garden State racetracks in New Jersey. In 1960, he was promoted to assistant to the chief mechanical engineer.
He also conducted counterfeit investigations, designed tickets and selected printing inks used in tote machines.
"Jim Clark was the oldest living authority on the tote machine, and he was a goodwill ambassador for AmTote," said Chick Lang, racing consultant and former general manager of Pimlico.
"He was a trouble-shooter, and if you had a problem with a machine, he was right there. He'd take off his coat and tie and take a machine apart. He was like Superman to the rescue," Mr. Lang said. "Everybody liked Jim Clark. If he had chosen to be a diplomat, we'd have no wars."
Mr. Clark was an enthusiastic wine-maker. An avid vegetable gardener, he also canned tomatoes and peppers.
His marriage to Josephine Bosica ended in divorce.
He tended the rose garden at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church, 27 Melvin Ave., Catonsville, where a Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Mr. Clark is survived by three sons, James P. Clark of Stevensville, Joseph M. Clark of Catonsville and Kevin J. Clark of Ellicott City; three daughters, Mary Susan Drake of Ellicott City, Mary Jo Lowery of Richmond, Va., and Mary Katharine Brown of Alexandria, Va.; a brother, the Rev. Joseph Clark of Fort Monroe, Va.; a sister, Peggy Murphy of Westminster; and seven grandchildren.