“Sales Office Lillie” Brown to say goodbye Saturday

After 12 years working in the publicity office at the Meadowlands and another 19 years working for Preferred Equine Marketing, 68-year-old Lillie Brown is officially retiring Aug. 10.

by Dave Briggs

When Lillie Brown made the decision that the time was right to retire, she stepped into the late Geoff Stein’s old office — still lovingly preserved at Preferred Equine Marketing — and had a little “conversation” with Stein.

“We still maintain Geoff’s office, even though Geoff’s been gone for most of these last six years. It’s still called Geoff’s office,” Brown said. “I went in there and I looked around and, just between you and me, I had a little conversation with Geoff, just to say that I’m leaving, which was really stupid, but it’s just sentimental for me. I just thanked him for being him.”

For nearly 19 years, Brown has been best known as “Sales Office Lillie” because that’s what she says when she answers the phone at Preferred Equine. On Aug. 10, Brown, 68, will officially retire from her job as office manager for Preferred, but not before saying a proper goodbye to her many friends in the industry who are encouraged to drop into the Moni Maker suite at the Meadowlands during Saturday’s Hambletonian Day card and wish Brown well on her next adventure.

“To tell you the truth, this is making me sad. I’ve just been doing this for so long, it’s part of me… To step away from it — part of it — is a big step for me. I’m just kind of sentimental about it,” she said, crying.

Reid said Brown has “been with us through thick and thin and it’s been a pleasure… She’s been a valuable asset to our operation and when Geoff died, she stuck right in there. She’s been with us a long time and we sincerely appreciate all of her contributions over the years. I know Geoff would have felt the same and I’m just happy she’s going to be able to enjoy some life right now.”

Brown said she couldn’t have worked for two better people than Stein and his partner David Reid.

“Between Geoff being so laid back and Dave being so intense, they made one super person. You couldn’t do better. I love both those guys, even though Geoff is gone. I still have love in my heart for Geoff and I always shall,” Brown said.

Brown started her career in horse racing on April 28, 1987 when she was hired to work in the publicity office at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

“I left them on September 30 in 1999 and I started with Geoff and David on October 4, 1999,” said Brown, who, among many skills is great at remembering important dates.

She said she has loved “everything” about her job, drawing out the word for extra emphasis.

“The people… Most everyone we have as consignors or customers, I call them friends because they are there year after year after year. You just get to know these people and you get to care about them. I love talking to them. I laugh, I joke… I like to talk and I like people. I’m a people person,” Brown said, joking that Reid thinks she talks too much, sometimes.

“She brought a pleasant voice to the operation, obviously, answering the phone at a high volume office,” Reid said. “She interacted with many of the sport’s leading owners, trainers, buyers, breeders et cetera. That stability and recognition is what she brought and was one of the big assets she has.”

Beyond being a familiar and welcome voice on the other end of the Preferred line, Brown quickly became the face of the company’s hospitality as the woman known for manning the Preferred cappuccino machine at the Standardbred Horse Sales Company’s annual mega-auction in Harrisburg, PA.

“In my second year, I think it was 2001, (Reid) assigned me to that cappuccino machine,” Brown said. “Dave came into the trailer and said, ‘Let me show you something.’ I walked out with him into the little hospitality booth and he shows me how to make this cappuccino. He said, ‘You can do this?’ and I said, ‘Of course!’

“Everybody always comes back to see me and give me a hug. It’s rewarding, heart-wise, for me because everybody that we deal with – we have good people. It’s basically there for our clientele, but then everyone else benefits from it.”

Brown said a series of health challenges in recent years have taken their toll — including a current battle with cancer.

“To be honest, I’m basically retiring because of health issues. I worked through chemo and would be out of the chemo for two days and come back here. It was really hard on everyone in the office and I just need to step away so Dave can get it set up so when he needs someone here they will be here,” she said, adding that Reid has been tremendously supportive throughout. “Sometimes it’s just really hard for me to drag myself out of bed and go in because I have no energy and I’ve lost my stamina because of chemo treatments. It’s just sucked the life right out of me and I just need to take some time and recoup and get my energy and everything back. That’s basically the reason I’m stepping away.

“He said that I could work part-time, that I didn’t have to retire, but I told him this was best. I love him enough to do that, to step away so that he can keep his business going the way that it needs to. Then I don’t have to feel guilty about putting extra work on my co-workers and everything. It’s hard because everyone has specific duties and when they have to pick up the slack for me, it throws everything off keel… My co-worker Kelle (Wisker) was tremendous in picking up for me when I was out this last time with cancer. She took care of the immediate things that needed to be done. I owe lots of kudos to her for doing that. They didn’t publically complain to me, so I can’t say how they got through it, but I’m sure it wasn’t a happy time.”

Brown said every time she had a health setback, Reid was there.

“When I had that first bout with cancer in 2008 and had surgery, I got out of surgery and my boys are there and I was really a mess – groggy, the whole 10 yards – and I looked up and Dave Reid stepped in the door. I said, ‘What are you doing there?’ He said, ‘I had to come see about you.’ That’s Dave. That’s true Dave. When my tibia was busted up and I had these metal plates and stuff, Dave was there, every day, until I had that surgery… I was in the hospital for 10 days and Dave and his family came to see me multiple times. He has the best family and I love them all… I love those people, they are a great bunch of people.”

With retirement looming, Brown said she would love to go to Paris when she feels up to it.

“I want to go to Paris,” Brown said. “I’ve never been, but I will do that in the next year or so. I’ll definitely put it on the calendar. My son actually gave me a trip to Paris. He put money aside for me and said he wants me to go to Paris. That was for my 65th birthday and Christmas present. That was his gift to me and I’ve been putting it off since I was 65. In October, I’ll be 69 so I’ve been putting it off almost four years.”

While she is retiring from the day-to-day office work, Brown said she is available to help Preferred at sales and when needed.

“If he needs me I’ll always be available for Dave. I love Dave,” Brown said. “I will always be loyal to Dave Reid.”

While Reid said Brown will be difficult to replace, he hopes to one day soon to find a person as beloved as Sales Office Lillie.