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In memoriam: Bertram Firestone, founding member of Equine Medical Center

Diana and Bertram Firestone. Photo provided by Bob Coglianese.

Bertram Firestone, real estate developer, Eclipse Award-winning thoroughbred owner, and founding member of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC), died July 12, 2021, at the age of 89. 

Born in 1931, Firestone studied at the University of Virginia and at the New York Military Academy. After graduating, Firestone began his highly successful career as an industrial real estate developer. 

In 1973, he married Diana Johnson, a fellow horse lover. The pair went on to become one of the most formidable forces in horse racing in the 1970s and 1980s, earning the 1980 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Owner. 

The Firestones left their mark in horse racing history through numerous Grade 1 stakes winners, 1988’s American Champion Steeplechase Horse, and great success racing in Europe. 

Notably, the Firestones owned Genuine Risk, the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame inductee that, in 1980, became the second filly to win the Kentucky Derby. 

When the EMC was founded in 1984, Firestone was among the first to serve on the center’s Advisory Council, alongside his wife. 

Nathaniel White, Professor Emeritus of Equine Surgery and former EMC director from 2003 to 2012, treated several of Firestone’s horses. 

“As a founding member of the EMC council, Bert always supported the EMC, but he became more involved when I got to know him and was able to treat his horses’ problems.”

White described Firestone as an engaged client who asked questions to make sure he understood his horses’ medical care. 

Firestone gave generously to the EMC to make sure that the veterinary professionals could give the best possible care. 

“Regarding the Equine Medical Center, he would ask, ‘What do you need?’ He funded equipment for the hospital, in particular, imaging equipment, helping the EMC remain on the cutting edge of equine medicine and surgery,” said White. 

The EMC has established a reputation for outstanding equine medical care, focusing on emergencies, surgery, and diagnostic imaging. The EMC treats over 2,500 patients a year. This excellence would not be possible without the generosity of donors like Firestone. 

“Bert and Diana Firestone, as early members of the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center Founding Committee, were instrumental in helping to bring recognition to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech,” said Professor Emeritus G. Frederick Fregin, who served as director for the center’s first 20 years.

“The Firestones’ financial gifts to the EMC allowed us to begin service to the equine community with state-of-the-art equipment. Their support continued throughout their tenure on the committee and helped to complete an EMC Advisory Council initiative to purchase new MRI technology.”

A true horseman, Firestone jumped and hunted in the United States and in Ireland, where he and Diana were named joint masters of Kildare Foxhounds in County Kildare. 

“It was an honor to work on Bert and Diana’s horses because I knew I could trust them to do what was best for their horses,” said White.