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Bill Bradley revived RNC mounted unit with donations

Bill Bradley, who died this week, was a former co-owner of Toyota Plaza, as well as a well-known horseman who is credited with reviving the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s mounted unit.
Bill Bradley, who died this week, was a former co-owner of Toyota Plaza, as well as a well-known horseman who is credited with reviving the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s mounted unit. - Contributed

Co-founder of Toyota Plaza, former police officer dead at 79

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Bill Bradley was tall in his saddle in his family life, in business and most certainly among the ranks of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary’s mounted unit, which credits his generosity with its revival.

“Mr. Bradley was the sole reason the mounted unit is reinstated with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, in my view,” said Const. George Horan, who has been with the unit since its re-establishment in 2003.

With Bradley’s horse acumen, the process to transfer to the mounted unit was one of the toughest interviews of his career, Horan recalled. There was no BS-ing or dazzling the benefactor.

“If you were talking about horses, you better have your facts straight. He knew more about horses than anyone I had over known,” Horan said.

Bradley’s full-on cowboy persona was the real thing, according to family and those who knew him.

He died Tuesday at age 79, and left behind a legacy as a father and founding partner of Toyota Plaza, and with his contributions to the community, including donating the RNC mounted unit’s first two horses — the late Townshend and Vince — the saddles, trailer, truck and years of boarding before the unit found a permanent home at Government House grounds.

Bradley was named an honorary inspector for his support, according to his obituary.

After a brief stint as a rural teacher, Bradley spent five years in the RNC beginning in 1959, lived a life large in horsemanship, beginning in his early life in Sandringham, Bonavista Bay. He owned about a dozen horses over his lifetime, and his passion also led to the forming of the Newfoundland Trail Riders Association with others who not only organized activities in the province, but took trips to places such as Utah, Wyoming and Alberta.

Through his life, he wore a Stetson, belt-buckled Wrangler jeans, pearl-button shirts, Western suits and cowboy boots.

He left behind eight pairs of those cowboy boots, said his son, Trevor, who wrote his father’s obituary that portrayed his contributions to the public and to his family, but also acknowledged his “boy howdys and God damns,” talent for playing the harmonica and accordion, and love of outlaw singers George Jones and Willie Nelson.

“It wasn’t an act. It was normal to us,” Trevor said.

There was no nonsense about his enthusiasm for life — for getting the job done, as well as being full-throttle into family and leisure pursuits, Trevor said.

“Whatever he did, he did it 150 per cent no matter what — in business, as a good family man, getting involved in something. He gave it everything. There was no question it was going to work or not. … if you worked hard enough it was going to be successful. There was no backing off,” his son said.

Trevor said that when his father left the constabulary in pursuit of other opportunities, the car business piqued his interest, but the force never left him — every time they needed something for a parade, he would attend on his horse in his dress uniform.

He worked at various dealerships, including Terra Nova behind the old Newfoundland Hotel and National Cars. With business partner Dave Morgan, Toyota Plaza was founded in 1977 after they acquired the franchise and it became the largest import car dealership in Atlantic Canada, according to the obituary.

In 2002, Bradley and Morgan sold to the Penney Group of Cos.

It was a good opportunity at the right time, as Bradley hit retirement age, said Trevor, who along with other family members would chip in, answering phones as a boy of eight or nine at the dealership under his father’s co-ownership. After university, Trevor joined the family business and remains the sales manager at Toyota Plaza.

Dan Penney of the Penney Automotive Group, who along with his brother and father bought Toyota Plaza in 2002, remembered Bradley as an authentic individual with a word as good as his handshake.

“He was a very straightforward man … someone you could count on. I had a lot of respect for him,” said Penney, who wasn’t taken aback by the western persona.

“He actually was a cowboy even though he was a Newfoundlander. That was who he was and he was proud of it. … Everyone new quickly accepted it.”

The greatest love of Bradley’s life was his family, Trevor said. Bradley and his wife, Sandra, were married for 52 years.

Trevor remembered his father as never saying, “I want you to remember this,” but teaching his three children — Trevor, Vanessa and Jennifer — by example.

“It was just constant learning from him,” Trevor said.

And his legacy lives on.

“He’s not gone as much as he’s everywhere,” Trevor said.

When Bradley was diagnosed with cancer, he told no one but close family members, as he didn’t want to burden anyone, his son said.

“He was stoic right to the end,” Trevor said.

Retired Memorial University professor Gordon Hancock knew Bradley for pretty much all his life — when Bradley’s midwife mother, Irene, delivered Hancock, she was five months pregnant with Bradley, he recalled.

Hancock, who grew up in Eastport, and his wife were schoolmates of Bradley.

“He was the sort of person who would give you the shirt off his back,” said Hancock, who noted his friend, as busy as he was at the car dealership, found time to catch up or take his childhood pal to lunch through the years.

Hancock recalled Bradley’s father, Kenneth, was a blacksmith and carpenter, and credited his contribution to the success of Sandringham, one of eight settlements started by the Commission of Government.

Bradley’s early exposure to horses was through his family roots.

He was also intensely supportive of the culture of Eastport and Sandringham, and helped bring back the agricultural fair, Hancock said.

“We miss him. … Now we’re the last survivors, as it were,” Hancock said of his wife and another childhood friend close to Bradley. “It’s getting lonely.”

As Horan and Const. Jason Coombs spoke into a speakerphone at the RNC stables, they gushed about Bradley’s contribution to the mounted unit and the positive accomplishments of the unit.

Horan, a former paddy wagon driver, could have retired a dozen years ago, but remains with the unit that got into his blood.

“It brings down the barriers between police and the public,” Coombs said. “A horse is more approachable than a patrol car.”

The horses are not only a crowd-pleaser, they contribute to enhanced policing of city trail systems, as well as search and rescue missions. The officer-mounted horses cut their own paths through wooded areas and, equipped with GPS, provide vital information to search and rescue personnel such as the Rovers, Horan said.

It was Bradley who realized the legacy of the original mounted unit and how important it was to bring it back, and what the public impact would be, Horan said.

He said Bradley and Insp. Sean Ryan went to then-chief Richard Deering with a proposal. Bradley, besides his donations, arranged the training for Horan and then fellow mounted unit officer Const. Jim Penton, as well as paid for the boarding of Townshend and Vince at Clovelly for the first few years, and then kept them in his own barn until the stables were ready at Government House.

“He paid the whole shot and he wanted no credit for it,” Horan said.

“My hat’s off to that man for what he has done.”

barbara.sweet@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @BarbSweetTweets

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