KENTUCKY BOUND: Usually, the Sunday before the Kentucky Derby I would be checking past performances, scouring the Racing Form for tidbits and calling a few friends in-the-know for their opinions. Often I would be making arrangements to head for Kentucky
Well, I’m headed for Kentucky, but I won’t be going near Churchill Downs. Instead, I’m flying to Northern Kentucky to attend the funeral of Pat Di Rocco.
It was early Sunday morning when my son, Ed, called. I’d been expecting it. Pat’s battle with the Big C had not been going well.
As I brushed my black suit and put it in the garment bag my thoughts drifted back. We’d spent 30-plus years trying to figure out how to make it work. When we finally decided to go our separate ways it was painful for both of us, but we knew it was the right decision. Pat moved back to Kentucky and resumed life with her very close and loving family. I moved on also, got lucky and found happiness.
During our process of readjustment a very strange thing happened. Pat and I became good friends. We found something separately that had eluded us during all our years together.
Who’s to say why we bumped heads so often? It certainly wasn’t for lack of good qualities on Pat’s part. From the time I first met her I knew she was special.
It was the early 60s and I had found my way to the Blue Grass State fresh from Garden State Park in New Jersey via a bet I’d won from Frank Tours. At the time Frank was a little short on greenbacks and offered to pay me with a job at Latonia Raceway.
The day I arrived I went straight to General Manager Pat Kelly’s office to report for duty. Sitting at the secretary’s desk was Patricia Ryan. She was pretty and a bit on the shy side. But, she laughed at my jokes and seemed to go out of her way to help me. Later, as I got to know her better, I realized that she was kind to me because that was her nature, not because she thought I was special.
That didn’t deter me. This was a girl I needed to know better. So while I was thumping the tub for Latonia I was also beating a path to Pat’s door.
She was not an easy catch. Being a good, Catholic, Irish girl from Kentucky, she kept this scruffy, Italian city slicker at arms length. But, my charm and persistence paid off and Miss Patricia Ryan finally granted me the pleasure of her company for an evening on the town.
We dined at Covington’s hottest spot and then went into Cincinnati to see Frankie Laine perform. My tips were generous to ensure we got the best treatment available. I was definitely out to impress this lassie.
Apparently I got the job done because Trip (a family nickname) started dating me on a regular basis. Even though my handicapping was failing miserably that year, I felt like a big winner. Soon after that we walked down the aisle and I knew I had the grand prize.
They say time heals. I guess it’s true. In time this knot I have at the pit of my stomach will ease and the nagging questions I have about what we could have done differently will fade. I’ll be left with the memories of the good times, your lilting laugh, your Irish eyes.
Trip, I love you and I’ll miss you.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in the name of Patricia A. Di Rocco can be made to the American Heart Association in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the American Cancer Society in Florence, Kentucky.