Longtime Maryland horse racing announcer Dick Woolley, whose voice could “take the edge out of watching an entire week’s paycheck suddenly evaporate,” (a losing money in gambling reference) according to a 1982 Baltimore Sun profile, passed of Parkinson’s disease at the Augsburg Village retirement community in Baltimore County, his wife reported. He was 89 years old.
Woolley, was a welcome mainstay of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course and other races in Laurel, Bowie and New Orleans. His career of more than twenty-five years in the press box, was a great husband, father and “hail-fellow-well-met,” said his wife, Patricia Woolley.
“His personality was outstanding,” Mrs. Woolley said. “He was genuine, helpful and just a really good friend.”
Woolley’s booming baritone seemed “to radiate into every crack and every crevice on the grounds,” according to The Sun’s profile, and his talk show, “Showcase of Racing,” won the Eclipse Award for the best radio program in the country in 1979 after just one year on air.
Who Was Dick Woolley
Richard Osmond “Dick” Woolley was born Jan. 27, 1930, in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Mr. Woolley’s equestrian fascination began around the age of seven. He said he remembered when his father used to take him and his brother, Bob, to rent horses for a few hours at a riding academy in Aspen Hill.
“We used to have a great time, and I really got to love horses,” he told The Sun in 1982.
After graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School, Woolley enlisted in the Navy for about dozen years, serving during the Korean War on the USS Palau, Mrs. Woolley said.
Woolley attended his first professional horse race in Bowie, Maryland in 1948. A neighbor in Chevy Chase introduced him to Walter Haight, a legendary racing writer at The Washington Post, who allowed Mr. Woolley to accompany him in the press box during visits while he was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.
After retiring from the Navy, Mr. Woolley enrolled at American University in Washington, majoring in radio and television.
His big break came when Mr. Haight’s son, Raymond, who for years called the races at Laurel, asked Dick for a favor. A new racetrack was opening in Bowie, Maryland and would he like to try calling the races at the track in Charles Town, West Virginia?
“It was a two-week stint, and I was scared to death, but I got through the two weeks at Charles Town,” Mr. Woolley told the paper.
He got his first permanent job in the business in 1959, calling the last 15 days of a 60-day meeting at Shenandoah Downs in West Virginia. That very first job lasted him a decade.
In 1971, when the younger Haight left his position at Laurel to take a job in New Jersey, Woolley applied and got the job as the announcer for the Maryland racetracks.
Woolley says his favorite call was the 1978 Preakness Stakes. It was a classic battle between rivals Affirmed and Alydar. Affirmed, the eventual Triple Crown winner had been victorious in most of the horses’ meetings, including the recent Kentucky Derby.
That year’s Preakness was even closer: Affirmed held off Alydar by just a neck down the stretch to win. The finish of that race left the announcer literally twitching with excitement.
“I was so built up and so keyed up, that … when I finished, I turned my mic off and for about 10 seconds I shook,” he said. “Not worried, not scared, but just so much adrenaline was there, I shook and then came down to earth. It was the most fantastic moment I ever had in racing.”
Services were held for Woolley at the Church of the Resurrection in historic Ellicott City, Maryland. A memorial at Augsburg Village is expected to take place this fall.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Woolley is survived by their children, Kathleen Woolley of Ellicott City, Brian Woolley of Frederick, Marianne Meagher of Fairfax, Va., and Patrick Meagher, of Texas; and three grandchildren.
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