The Spotlight is on Pat Lacourse
by Richard E. Gordon
A special chance to make new friends
What makes Pat Lacourse a very special member of our Retired Teachers Club? Pat gives us a chance to nourish new friendships among our membership and associates -- an opportunity that we just don’t have to the same extent at our regular monthly luncheons. Thanks to Pat we have our annual social Day at the Races at the thoroughbred horse racing track at TampaBay Downs in Oldsmar, Florida.
Luncheon-Meetings great successes but ...
Our luncheon-meetings have been great successes, well attended and with excellent guest speakers. At our luncheon on November 9 (when I interviewed Pat for this article), we had over forty-five attending and were entertained and informed by our guest speaker Susan Guize from the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. But as successful as our luncheons have been, one shortcoming remains. We are pretty much anchored at our dining table, eating and chatting with only our closest table-mates while still remaining in our seats as we listen to our guest speaker.
After lunch, we seldom remain to socialize
When the luncheon-meeting is over most of us leave quickly, never having the chance to circulate among all those in attendance and getting to know many new people, and perhaps even making new friends. Thanks to Pat, we have a great opportunity to mix and mingle and make new friends within our Retired Teachers Club.
At Pat Lacourse’s Day at the Races, after enjoying a buffet luncheon, we remain in air-conditioned enclosed grandstands where we mingle together, exchange information on our betting choices, and just small talk and big talk about whatever we wish, free to move from seat to seat or join some friends as we walk down to the paddock where the horses amble about, giving us the chance to talk over and judge a likely winning candidate.
Only $2 bets for me
Most of our bets are small time stuff – I stick with $2 bets, but it is still fun and exciting, especially trying to apply the information Pat has given us including her printed handout explanation of betting terms (similar to the ones at this link) and Bernie’s Tips appearing in the St. Petersburg Times.
Pat devotes many hours preparing for this event
For ten years now, Pat has been organizing our annual Day at the Races. She devotes more than thirty hours to preparing for this event. Months before the big day, Pat --
At our November 14 luncheon, Pat was seated at the end of a table where she could be easily approached, surrounded by paperwork, all related to taking reservations for the Day at the Races. While the rest of us were free to enjoy our meal, Pat was devoting time to answering questions, getting menu choices for the buffet, talking up this special social event and securing reservation checks.
Pat's husband Robert is the teacher in the family
By her hard work, you would never guess that Pat is only an associate member. Her husband Robert, a regular member of our Unit, is the retired New York State teacher in the family. He taught business, coached baseball and wrestling at Cornwall High School in Cornwall, New York.
Robert is really the horse-racing guru in the family, but a health problem only permits him to assist Pat. Robert wanted to do something special for our Club – so since his health would make it very difficult for him to do something special on his own, Pat volunteered to take the lead with his assistance. It was ten years ago that Robert first suggested to Pat she take over running this event from our member Ruth Nardella who had been in charge of it for the previous three years.
Pat worked at the racetrack for nine years
Besides being able to count on her husband’s racing expertise, what is there about Pat’s background that made her so well suited to run this event for us? In 1992 she came to Florida with her husband from upstate New York and settled in Oldsmar, the home town of the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack. That same year, she explains, “I was reading the classified ads and saw a job for a part-time teller at the track.” She really didn't’t think much of the job at first, but when she mentioned it to Robert, he encouraged her to check it out.
Pat's husband Robert, as a teenager, had first been exposed to racetracks at Rockingham Race Track in Salem, New Hampshire. “At seventeen, I was making bets,” he said. So the excitement of the track got into his blood as a youngster, and when Pat read the ad for a part-time teller at a race track right in Oldsmar where they now lived, Robert was quick to encourage her to look into the job. She applied for the job and was hired.
Beginning in 1992, Pat held her teller job at Tampa Bay Downs for nine years. As a race track teller, she learned everything about making bets as well as so much about race horses and the track in general. After retiring from her teller’s job, Pat took that horse racing knowledge to help our members enjoy our day at the track.
Much advanced preparation needed
Long before the racing season starts, the track's Guest Services sends Pat a calendar of races for the new racing year. Pat prefers February because generally that is a slow month at the track, making it easier for her to book our reservations and enjoy uncrowded conditions.
With so many empty seats around us in the stands, we are free to move about from seat to seat, chatting with many members of our group. Pat then shows our co-presidents the calendar of available dates. Pat explains, “I have to make the reservations in September or October so that we get our reservations set for the dining room buffet." (This year the track entrance fee, special seating in the enclosed, air conditioned grandstands, and the buffet will cost $18).
Pat goes the extra mile
Pat isn't’t just satisfied in telling our members about this coming event. “As the deadline approaches, if I notice someone who doesn’t reserve a spot but yet came in past years, I personally call them up to remind them and personally invite them to join us again.”
Pat goes to the extra trouble of using the Internet to get a tip sheet that she distributes to our members. She also prints and distributes Bernie Bets reported in the St. Petersburg Times.
“Last year we had 56 people," Pat said. "We started with a low in the 40’s but have climbed gradually closer to 60."
Up at 6 AM on the big day
The Day at the Races begins early for Pat. She’s up at 6:30 AM, hours before RTC members are due to arrive at the race track. She has much preparation to do – to make sure all the betting-explanation sheets and racing tips from Bernie Bets' column have been duplicated for our members. “Even on this day of the races," Pat told me, "I always get some last minute callers, wanting the chance to go to the Track with us even though the deadline has long past for making reservations. But I manage to find a place for them anyway.”
What we like best
I asked Pat, "What do our members like best about the Clearwater Unit's annual Day at the Races?"
“They just love the buffet,” Pat replied. “And I love to see the excitement their faces show when they win $2.10 on a $2 bet." But Pat told me that for three ladies – and perhaps for most of us -- it wasn’t the betting or the buffet that was the main reason for so much enjoyment of this event."The main reason they enjoy Race Day,” said Pat, “is that it gives them a chance to know many new people.”
One of the highlights of the day is when the racing announcer calls for representatives from our Club to go to to winner’s circle to meet the winning horse, jockey and owner, and stand together for an official photograph, just like the one you see below. Pat is at far right, while moving left are three RTC members, their guests, the owner and the jockey.
Special praise from past presidents
Of course, our current co-presidents Nancy and Charles are very grateful for the great job that Pat does putting together this social. Two past presidents of RTC have their own words of praise for Pat. Clive Holmes points out that Pat, in addition to organizing our Day at the Races, plays another important and helpful role for our Club:
Words of praise for Pat also come from former president Maria Pappas:
Yes, Pat – and Bob, too – you have played important roles in making RTC the success it is today. Even if every horse I pick comes in last in our next Day at the Races, I’ll know by the fun I’ll have and the camaraderie I’ll feel and the new friends I’ll make, you have made our Day at the Races a winning social event.
A special thanks to Clive Holmes for his editorial
assistance with this Spotlight article as well his
assistance with so much of the writing that goes into this