Campbell’s life celebrated with music, humor, applause and some tears
The celebration of Cot Campbell’s life began with Fabio Mann’s rendition of “Call to the Post,” a bugle fanfare that traditionally is played before the start of horse races.
And it ended with a Barb Rollins’ solo trumpet performance of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which started mournfully, but concluded with a spirited flourish.
In between there were tears, laughter and also applause at Aiken’s First Baptist Church on Thursday.
Cot’s widow, Anne, received a standing ovation after she emotionally reminisced about their marriage, which lasted for 59 years.
She introduced herself as “the woman lucky enough to share the legendary life of Wade Cothran Campbell.”
Anne talked about how they met and became “serious soul mates.” Even after nearly six decades together, she said, “both of our hearts still skipped a beat when we saw each other across a crowded room.”
Their union, she continued, was never boring.
“He was a boon companion,” Anne said. “He was the most entertaining human being that I’ve ever known.”
She added that Cot was also “funny, smart and full of, as he called it, gay repartee.”
Her late husband, Anne said, was “the epitome of class” and a “true Southern gentleman,” who appreciated unsung heroes and spent quality time with his family while enjoying an exciting and often glamorous life.
In conclusion, Anne declared, “We will forever be celebrating, in the streets of Aiken, Cot’s spirit.”
Cot died Oct. 27 at the age of 91.
The founder and president of Dogwood Stable was a thoroughbred racing industry legend and one of Aiken’s leading citizens.
During the celebration of Cot’s life, there were brief mentions of his recent induction into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in the Pillars of the Turf category and one of Dogwood’s best racehorses, 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice.
But for the most part, Thursday’s event focused on Cot’s devotion as a husband, father and grandfather.
Both of Cot and Anne’s daughters – Cary Umhau and Lila Campbell – shared their memories, and so did son-in-law Andrew Umhau and two grandchildren – Campbell Glenn and Charlie Umhau.
Cot was very sentimental and always had “a telltale tear in his eye when he would reflect on any one of us that he loved the most,” Cary said.
She also provided details of Cot’s commitment as a father.
He was “vitally interested in the details of our lives,” Cary said, and he celebrated his daughters’ successes and comforted them when they were hurting.
“Dad wanted to make the world right for us,” Cary said. “He wanted to spare us all of the pain. He couldn’t do that … but no father ever tried harder.”
Like her sister, Lila praised Cot for his parenting skills.
“I always felt so lucky that I got to be one of the only two people in the world who could call this fine, amazing dynamo of a man named Cot Campbell my dad, my hero and one of my very best friends in the world,” she said. “Call me a daddy’s girl. That’s OK. I’ll wear that with pride for the rest of my life.”
In addition, Lila reflected on her experiences with Cot at various racetracks.
“I always thought it was cool and fun and exciting to be with my dad and hear all the calls: ‘Cot, you’re the man. Go get ’em, Cot,’ ” she said.
Lila also recalled a visit to Churchill Downs in Kentucky with her father when she was 7 years old.
“He made me feel like a million dollars, with his capable hands on my shoulders while he was leading me through this new world,” she said.
In the Sport of Kings, Cot was a pioneer in the development of limited partnerships to own racehorses, and Glenn referred to that when she shared her thoughts about her grandfather.
“Professionally, he welcomed people into an industry that preferred the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys, creating space for people who would never have had a shot otherwise,” she said.
Family members also discussed Cot’s eccentricities such as his fondness for tanning salons long after the peak of their popularity and how he liked to wear funny and sometimes grotesque masks.
“They could appear at any second on any occasion,” said Lila of the masks. “My father had zany streak that was a mile long.”
A crowd that nearly filled the lower level of First Baptist’s large sanctuary turned out for the celebration. From the thoroughbred racing world outside of Aiken, the attendees included one of this country’s leading trainers, Todd Pletcher; Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ founder and president, Aron Wellman and retired trainer Frank Alexander.
Among the local officials present were S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken; S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken; Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon and Aiken County Council Vice Chairman Andrew Siders.
Also there was U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
“Aiken has lost one of its finest ambassadors,” said Osbon following the celebration.