Dick Woolley, the longtime Maryland horse racing announcer whose dulcet tone could “take the edge out of watching an entire week’s paycheck suddenly evaporate," according to a 1982 Baltimore Sun profile, died July 1 of Parkinson’s disease at the Augsburg Village retirement community in Baltimore County, his wife said. He was 89.
Mr. Woolley, a mainstay of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course and other races in Laurel, Bowie and New Orleans over a career of more than a quarter-century 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.”
The announcer’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.
“I love everything about my job,” he told the newspaper.
Richard Osmond “Dick” Woolley was born Jan. 27, 1930, in West Hartford, Conn., the second son of William Osmond Woolley, a cash register salesman, and Margaret Alice Brazel, a homemaker.
At age 5, his father was hired at the Standard Register Co., of Dayton, Ohio, to work in the company’s Washington branch, and the family eventually settled in Chevy Chase. Mr. Woolley’s equestrian fascination began a few years later, he said, 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.
His father, an avid golfer, turned to horse riding during World War II, when the federal government was discouraging golfing because it required too much gasoline.
After graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School, Mr. Woolley enlisted in the Navy for about dozen years, serving during the Korean War on the USS Palau, Mrs. Woolley said.
Mr. Woolley first attended a professional horse race in Bowie in 1948. A neighbor in Chevy Chase introduced Mr. Woolley 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, Va.
After retiring from the Navy in 1954, Mr. Woolley enrolled at American University in Washington, majoring in radio and television.
A big break came when Mr. Haight’s son, Raymond Haight, who for years called the races at Laurel, asked him for a favor: With a new racetrack opening in Bowie, would he like to try calling the races at the track in Charles Town, W.Va.?
“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 also filled in for Mr. Haight at Timonium and Hagerstown, and 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 first job lasted him a decade.
He married the former Patricia Quinter in Chevy Chase in 1962, and the pair lived with their four children and several horses at a 20-acre horse farm outside Emmitsburg in Frederick County.
In 1971, when the younger Mr. Haight left his position at Laurel to take a job in New Jersey, Mr. Woolley applied to succeed him and got the job as the announcer for the Maryland racetracks.
He and Mrs. Woolley would travel each winter to New Orleans, where he would call races in the offseason. He retired in 1989.
Of the races Mr. Woolley called, his favorite was the 1978 Preakness, 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, which he’d won by only a length and a half.
That year’s Preakness was even closer: Affirmed held off Alydar by just a neck down the stretch to win.
The finish 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 Saturday at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City. A memorial at Augsburg Village is expected to take place this fall, Mrs. Woolley said.
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.