Richard Hamilton passed away Wednesday April 18 from a heart attack at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, NY. He was 76.
Just a few months ago he had sent an email out to friends that he was moving to a new address—16 Glen St. in Ballson Spa. When I moved up here in 2007, I lived in an apartment on 18 Glen St. We could’ve been neighbors.
I met Dick while researching and writing Six Weeks in Saratoga. I pieced together several articles for my John Morrissey chapter when Victoria Garlanda of the Saratoga Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library told me a volunteer who may be of assistance should I need a reader. She told me when he volunteered so I came by looking for him and saw him eyebrow-deep in pile of papers before him, his downcast eyes sponging all that information.
A hobby of his, if you can call it a hobby, was scanning through the Saratogian for errors, circling them, then sending them in anonymously to the news or sports editor. He was quick to tell me he found the errors all too often.
He told me he was a former steward for NYRA and what better person—an industry insider—to read your book for content and overall accuracy with regards to racing? He was eager to help.
“As a steward, Dick was very professional and very thorough,” said Carmine Donofrio, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board steward who worked with Hamilton at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. “He was a very intelligent man, very funny, and a great guy. He really loved horse racing.”
My wife would drop of chapters of Six Weeks for him, a pile of pages as heavy as a watermelon, and he’d devour them in a week. His notes were wonderfully insightful and when I had said that Secretariat won the Belmont by 39 ½ lengths, he kindly wrote, “I think it was 31 lengths, but I might be wrong.” Of course he wasn’t wrong.
He made corrections, suggestions, always saying, “Now, now, you don’t have to change anything. You can throw them out if you want!” I used every. One. Of. His. Suggestions. They were that good and made the book better than it was before he had his hands on it.
Dick made sure I wouldn’t pay him a dime for any of his work. I rode my bicycle to his old house off Gick Road and sat by him in his living room back in the fall of 2009. I pulled out an envelope and he threw up his hands as if I were handing him a bomb.
“No, no, I’m doing it for free!” he exclaimed.
“I know,” I said. “I wish I could pay you, but this is the next best thing.” It was a thank you note for his hard and timely work.
Wherever he is, I hope he’s got a nice pair of binoculars so he can watch some of the greats long gone. He’s in good company, and, likewise, so are they.
Brendan O'Meara can be followed on Twitter right here.