David P. Buckson, a founder of Dover Downs and former Republican governor, 96, died at the Delaware Veterans Home in Milford Tuesday.
Buckson was a harness owner, trainer and driver during the mid 20thcentury and competed as an amateur driver in the 1990s. During his career, he served an attorney, one-term lieutenant governor, a Delaware governor for 18 days and a two-term state attorney general.
The popular and well know Buckson had a passion for horse racing that in the 1960s sparked the idea for Dover Downs.
In 1967, Buckson pitched the idea of a racing complex north of Dover that would host horse and auto races.
“I saw this one farm that had a hill,” said Buckson in a 2010 interview in the Delaware State News. “All the other land in Kent was kind of flat.” He said the dirt from the hill would be ideal for the track construction, Buckson.
Not long after, he lured elected officials and newsmen out to the farm for an announcement in the summer of 1967.
With the finances of John Rollins and the construction know-how of Melvin Joseph, Dover Downs came to life on 204 acres of farmland. It featured a high-banked mile asphalt oval with a 5/8-mile horse track inside it. His idea, first revealed to readers in a June 18, 1967, article in the Delaware State News, centered mainly on bringing horse racing to central Kent County.
“I had been to practically all the horse tracks in the country with my race horses,” said Buckson. “Every place I went, the place opened for 60 days and then closed for the rest of the year. “I wanted something that was year-round. That meant standardbreds, thoroughbreds, cars, trucks, dogs. I tried to get all of those.”
The first big event at Dover Downs was thoroughbred horse racing in March 1969, a year later than the original hope. More than 8,000 people were there for the opening card. The speedway held its first race in July 1969 just a few months before harness racing.
“It was his original vision that led to the birth of Dover Downs and many Delawareans have benefited over the years as a result,” said Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, Inc. and Dover Motorsports, Inc.
Early in life, Buckson had a love of horses. He exercised thoroughbreds at Delaware Park as a young man and drove harness horses in the region for decades. A one-time National Amateur Driving Championship winner, he drove standardbreds into the late 1990s.
Buckson was a University of Delaware graduate and later received a law degree from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania after serving in the U.S. Army in the Pacific during World War II.
Miss Becky Pick, a trotting mare he bought at Pompano Park was a favorite at Brandywine Raceway. She had tremendous early speed and could trot a half mile in :55 seconds (which was unheard of at the time) but the fun for the fans started when she would slow down and the rest of the field began to catch up. On many occasions, she would hold on for a victory. Another of his favorites was Lookout Dapper Dan, a horse he bought for $1,000 that went on to win more than $100,000 in purses.
In his active political career, Buckson served as lieutenant governor from 1957 to 1960. He became governor, serving for 18 days, after Gov. Caleb Boggs won election to U.S. Senate in 1960. He later became a Family Court judge in 1975. On three occasions, he tried to win election to governor.
During his time as a Family Court judge, Buckson was renown as being tough on those who did not take responsibility, especially those not paying child support, “ I’d tell them they either had 30 minutes or 30 days — there was the phone,” he said in a 2005 interview. “They had 30 minutes to come up with the money or they’d have 30 days in jail to think about it.”
If you were at all interested in Delaware government, Delaware politics, you didn’t have to live here long before you started hearing about David Buckson, but he wasn’t just colorful. He’s a dedicated, loyal public servant.
Buckson is survived by his devoted wife, Patricia; his sons, Brian “Bud”(Debbie), David (Kathy), Eric (Jennifer), and Kent; a daughter, Marlee; 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been determined.