Byram Jeejeebhoy, a prominent figure on the country's racecourses, passed away at his Worli residence recently. A philanthropist and gentleman to the core, he had not been in the best of health for the last couple of years and breathed his last after a prolonged illness. He was 75.
The Parsi community is renowned for its largeheartedness. Their numbers may be dwindling but their generosity over the ages has been immeasurable. Numerous educational institutions, hospitals and charitable homes stand testimony to their contribution to Mumbai and the country at large. Byram Jeejeebhoy was an illustrious member of this community.
The scion of the famed Jeejeebhoys, Byram was multi-faceted. He was not just a highly successful business tycoon but his interests, hobbies and expertise ranged from music (he played the violin adeptly), golf, fine dining, theatre classics, art collection, luxury automobiles and a passion for thoroughbred racing.
In the racing fraternity, he was fondly known as ‘Bubla.’ Extremely popular across racecourses and for trotting off to various venues to see his horses in action, Jeejeebhoy also supported the racing industry, sponsoring some of the big races at different centres. He owned a good team of horses and had many successes on the turf.
He also served the RWITC as a member of the board of appeal for several terms and showcased his acute sense of consideration and sound judgement in disposing of scores of appeals. By and large, he loved his horses and was a sporting owner who kept a low profile.
Business tycoon and well-known philanthropist Cyrus S Poonawalla, a childhood friend of Byram's, fondly recalled his association with his good 'ol buddy.
“I knew Byram, fondly known as Bubla, from the time of his fifth birthday party in Pune, held at 'Villoo Villa'. From then on we have been friends, until his demise. “Unfortunately, Bubla was ailing for quite some time. It was only his sheer guts that kept him going so far. May God bless his soul,” said Poonawalla.
Zavaray Poonawalla, chairman, RWITC, lamented not being able to attend his close friend’s last rites, to pay homage. “I was stuck in Pune and just could not make it. Bubla was a great personality and a true friend. He was from a well-known family, a good Indian and a good Parsi. He was my racing partner too,” said Zavaray Poonawalla.
Vivek Jain, former chairman of the RWITC said, “It is sad news. My association with Byram was through several interactions at the racecourse and the RWITC. I remember him having generously agreed to sponsor the Eclipse Stakes of India at my request, for several years,” said Jain.
Star jockey-turned-trainer Pesi Shroff was grief-stricken by the news and fondly recalls Byram as an absolute gentleman. He said “Byram’s passing away is a personal loss to me and my family. As a person, he was soft-spoken, yet extremely direct, with a strong sense of what is right and wrong. He had a zest for life which one rarely witnesses. He would be most upset with me if I failed to notice his impeccable dress sense and his charismatic personality. I will certainly miss him,” said Pesi.
Malesh Narredu, also top jockey-turned-trainer, “It is a sorrow which I shall not overcome very soon. I admired the man throughout my career. I was fortunate to ride a lot of winners for him and that included many Classics and Group races. I won the Indian St Leger (Gr1) at Mumbai, the President of India Gold Cup (Gr1) and the St Leger (Gr1) at Hyderabad astride his horse Zurbaran in 2003 and also the Indian 2000 Guineas atop Berlioz the following year”.
There is no doubt that Byram Jeejeebhoy struck an emotional chord with everyone who knew him. Although he had taken ill a while ago, he remained cheerful and was always in high spirits whenever he visited the racecourse. Everybody's ‘go-to’ man is sadly gone, now becoming a golden memory of the racing fraternity.