Obituary: Sacramento businessman Ralph M. Scurfield served on City Council, led state horse-racing board

Ralph M. Scurfield, a longtime Sacramento businessman and civic leader who was influential in the racetrack industry as chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, died Oct. 15 of complications from recent surgery, his family said. He was 85.

Mr. Scurfield began working in his family’s canvas goods shop in 1953 after a brief stint as a physical education teacher. He got involved in land-use issues after joining the Sacramento Planning Commission in 1965 and went to work in commercial property management and investment.

As a partner in Potter, Taylor & Scurfield, he was active in the redevelopment of Old Sacramento and the creation of the California State Railroad Museum. He retired in 1985 but continued working in real estate as president of the Scurfield Co.

Mr. Scurfield won election to the Sacramento City Council in 1967. He stepped down after a two-year term but was active in civic, business and cultural groups and commissions. He served as a county campaign chairman for George Deukmejian in the 1970 state attorney general race and was appointed by Gov. Deukmejian to the California State Fair Board in 1984.

Named by Deukmejian to the California Horse Racing Board in 1991, he was reappointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1992 and served seven years as chairman. He led efforts to shore up horse racing amid competition from other forms of gaming by reducing state licensing fees and supporting horse owner associations. He was instrumental in adoption of regulations and programs to eliminate substance abuse among industry workers.

His prominence in the sport in California led him to serve as chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International. He later helped organize the Sacramento Harness Association.

“He wasn’t a big horse owner, but he was a good business guy who enjoyed sports,” said his son David. “He liked to combine his business skills with his love of sports, and this was a good opportunity.”

Born Aug. 20, 1928, in Langloth, Pa.., Mr. Scurfield was 5 when his family moved to California. He played basketball at McClatchy High School and Sacramento City College and took up golf at San Jose State College. He graduated in 1951 with a physical education degree and coached basketball at Lincoln High School in Placer County before selling canvas tarps, tents and awnings at his family’s shop in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood.

He was a leader in many groups, including the Oak Park Merchants Association, the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization and the California Historical Society. He enjoyed fly-fishing on the Klamath River and was a regular at Sutter Lawn Tennis Club and Del Paso Country Club.

“He spent lunch hours almost every weekday playing tennis at Sutter Lawn Tennis Club,” his son said. “He played until just a few years ago.”

Besides his wife, Barbara, Mr. Scurfield is survived by three sons from a previous marriage to Louise Aunger that ended in divorce: Donald, David and Steven. He also is survived by two stepsons, Ken Griggs and Chris Griggs, and 14 grandchildren.

A celebration of his life is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday at Sutter Lawn Tennis Club, 3951 N St., Sacramento.