RACETRACK REFLECTIONS: JEFF COADY 1951 – 2013

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JEFF SANS HIS FULL HEAD OF WHITE HAIR. (Jeff Coady Facebook)

Like everybody that knew him, I was saddened to learn of the death of track photographer and all-around good guy Jeff Coady.  It’s been a tough summer in our house, but the death of Jeff at the very young age of 62 is a well-needed dose of perspective.  Some days we all say “I’m just glad to be alive” and today I really mean it.

Among other things, his death reminded me how much I hate getting older. I hate that friends and family members die.  I hate my growing sense of mortality and an ever expanding list of aches and pains.  I hate that things change and not always in a good way.  I hate paying taxes and traffic…Need I go on?

Now, before I sound like too much of a curmudgeon I use “hate” with some degree of flexibility.  Some of the things above are downright hateful and some are just plain aggravating.  What I do REALLY hate is writing about people – good people – who have died prematurely.  In my book as I wing my way toward 60, anybody not pushing 100 dies prematurely.

A few years back, my mother and my sister died two months apart.  My sister died prematurely (just shy of 60), and when I gave her eulogy, I told the group assembled that if any of them were going to die anytime soon not to count on me to do their eulogy.  After two such speeches in less than 60 days, I was done.  In the same time frame and not long after, I found myself writing about people I knew and liked that had died – Noel Twyman and Chuck Hoovler to name a couple, and a few that I didn’t really know personally like Ned Evans.

So here I am writing a few words about Jeff Coady.

First off I was proud to call him my friend. I was glad I knew him and I appreciate the time we spent together.  We weren’t close by any measure, but we shared a common bond in an important stretch of time at an important place in our lives.

Coady Photography

A CLASSIC COADY HAPPY WINNER’S SHOT – KITTEN’S JOY, PRADO AND RAMSEY AFTER THE VIRGINIA DERBY.

The first two-years Colonial Downs was open, I spent a fair amount of time with Jeff – most of it in the winner’s circle and some of it on the racecourse and in his office.  His door was always open and I (like everybody else I imagine) was always welcome.  We spent a lot time talking about racing in the Commonwealth – what was right and what was wrong. And, of course, we talked about how we would make it better.

One of my jobs those first two years was trophy presentations and that was always fun since after any race, a stakes race especially, everybody in the winner’s circle is extremely happy.  It was my task to get the trophy and the winning connections there and it was Jeff’s to get them assembled and photographed as efficiently and as safely as possible. I fumbled a few times. Jeff never did.

Even though there were quite a few racetrack veterans involved in the management of Colonial Downs in its first two years of operations, there were still plenty of foibles.  Not so with Jeff Coady. When Jeff was on the track he was all business.  He was courteous, but firm. He didn’t tolerate any nonsense and he was quick to admonish anybody who in the wrong place doing the wrong thing.  That said, he always did it in a polite and professional manner.

He was always helpful and was willing to take me and other young photographers out on the racecourse to shoot a race.  He always explained the teletimers and finish line camera to keep neophytes from tripping them – no small feat on CLN’s expansive turf course where there is a teletimer every 10 feet (or so it seemed!).

He honored every request of every picture of every race every single time I asked him.  Sometimes he let me pay, but most times he didn’t.  In the digital age, he sent me files whenever I asked and if there is one photo credit I have never missed and will never miss it’s “Coady Photography Photo.”

Jeff loved Virginia and Colonial Downs along with his family and his Canon cameras.  Like all of us, he had some moments where racetrack management left him scratching his head, but his outlook always seemed to be that there ultimately was only one solution: Do your job, and do it well.

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DALE ROMANS, JERRY CRAWFORD AND JEFF COADY. (Nick Hahn Photo)

Jeff did his job well until he was too sick and too weak to do it anymore.  In June, Nick Hahn told me Jeff was in bad shape but still able to talk on the phone in short spells as his mediation and weakened condition allowed.  He gave me his phone number and I promised I’d call.

Mired in my own situation, I never did.  I picked the phone up on several occasions but I couldn’t push the buttons.  What was I going to say?  How are you?  (I’m lousy, I’m dying, I imagined an all too true reply.)  Just this past Sunday night, I made a mental note to call Jeff this week.  But, I didn’t and now it’s too late.

We all imagine we are braver than we are.  This time I was the coward when I didn’t call Jeff, but, like my sister, I’m sure he was brave until the very end.  That’s just the kind of guy he was.  And that’s just one of the reasons he will be missed. — Glenn Petty, August 28, 2013

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