John L. Cothorn, 89, high school principal, clocker at horse tracks


John LeVernier Cothorn, a retired high school principal who had a long sideline career as Johnny the Clocker at Maryland thoroughbred racetracks, died Sunday in his sleep in his Pikesville home. He was 89.

For many years, he appeared at dawn at Pimlico and Laurel in Maryland and at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. With a stopwatch in hand, he timed horses' morning workouts for the Daily Racing Form, the national newspaper that covers the racing scene.

Later in the day, he took his place in the principal's office at Carrollton Vocational School, and later at Cherry Hill Junior High School.

"He'd be there early in the morning and stand about 70 yards from the finish line," recalled W. Snowden Carter, retired editor of The Maryland Horse magazine. "He stood with a group of 10 people -- the trainers and the retirees who liked to watch. He was well known at the tracks."

Other longtime racing buddies recalled him looking "professorial," dressed for the track in a crisp white shirt, neatly tied necktie and suit, which he also wore at school, home and church.

"No matter how hot it was, he had on a suit or sport coat," said Jacqueline Porter, a cousin who lives on Harlem Avenue. "And his shoes were always shined."

While he was known as Johnny the Clocker at the tracks, his family called him Dapper Uncle John. They also recall him as a conservative wagerer.

He developed a taste for following the horses as a young man and used his summers off from teaching to travel to East Coast racecourses. In 1990, he was given a citation from Gov. William Donald Schaefer for his 40 years of meritorious service as a track clocker.

Born in Baltimore and reared on Harlem Avenue, he was a 1928 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School. He received his teaching certificate from then Coppin Normal School in 1934. He taught industrial arts for several years and enrolled at then Morgan State College, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1949.

Mr. Cothorn was one of many black teachers who were forced to pursue a master's degree out of state because of Maryland's segregation laws. He commuted on weekends with other Maryland blacks to New York and received his master's degree from New York University in 1952.

He retired in 1971 after serving as assistant principal at the old Wood School for physically and mentally challenged children. In the 1950s, he was named principal of the old Carrollton Vocational School on Lafayette Square in West Baltimore. In the 1960s, he was principal of Cherry Hill Junior High School.

In the 1930s, he married Marguerite Esters, a Social Security Administration employee. They later divorced. In 1948, he wed Helen Mercer, also a Social Security employee and a church musician. She died in 1978.

He played poker and pinochle and enjoyed classical music.

Raised in the Roman Catholic faith, he was a member of New All Saints Roman Catholic Church on Liberty Heights Avenue. He was also a member of Lochearn Presbyterian Church, 3800 Patterson Ave., where a memorial service will be held at 3: 30 p.m. tomorrow.

He is survived by a son, John Cothorn of Detroit, Mich.; two brothers, Andrew Davis of Baltimore and Delmar Davis of Baltimore; a sister, Leah Patterson of Baltimore; a niece, Shirley A. Cathorne of Pikesville; and two grandchildren.

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