I was fortunate enought to be present at the tribute to Jack Le Goff at USET Headquarters in Gladstone, NJ, and even though it was 11PM when I returned home, I sat down and wrote up the following. A few folks have suggested that I share it with you.
The evening was magic from the moment I finally found the new entrance in the dark and drove past the stables, to entering the Rotunda and Trophy Room and stepping back into History, to greeting all the familiar faces of my days competing.
I was received very warmly by the crowded room. Gail Wofford, Jimmy’s wife, was the first person I saw, and it was so nice to catch up with her. And then next was dear Karen Stives. It felt like we were sisters! Beloved Patrick, Team Stable Manager for so many of my trips was there looking very spiffy. Juliet Bishop was there from VA, as were the O’Connors, Nigel and Allie Casserly, and more. Torrance Watkins, Molly Bliss (who looks younger now than 20 years ago!), and more from up North, and from out West, Mike Huber, Grant Schnideman, and Jeanne Kane—another very special Team Stable Manager. Everyone looked well—not all are still in horses. Absent were Mike Plumb, Denny Emerson, Don Sachey, The DiGrazias, Caroline Treveranus, Mary Ann Tausky, Bruce Davidson, and Ralph Hill, but this affair did take place on a Monday night…not so convenient for traveling
There was a DVD slide show of Jack photos going on, and then the official talks of the night began. Both David O’Connor and Jimmy Wofford broke down in tears several times during their talks—I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Tad Coffin read a very eloquent letter he wrote to Jack’s family—It was such a privilege to be there.
Photos of us all were taken downstairs in front of a display of Jack memorabilia. There was his French Army uniform coat w/ medals—so very slim! Photos of him riding airs above the ground on horses at Saumur, and more photos of him doing cross country. One of them was at an international competition, and showed him flying over a huge ditch—in which was lying the body of a horse who had died there during the competition, and standing next to it was the rider and an official! They were outside the flags, but still in the ditch! Yikes!
There was a lovely dinner, and much conversation. Nigel Casserly said the nicest thing: he and his wife are passionate about their land conservation project, and his greatest desire is to teach children to acknowledge all life on the planet. He said that he wants to teach them so that when they see a sparrow in the road in the morning, they stop and say Good Morning to it! I’m behind that project 1000%!
We were asked to sign a book, and to write any Jack Le Goff quotes we could remember. I wrote “Turn on your tape recorder, Mother Goose!”, which are the words that Jack said to me in every start box—meaning, start talking to The Gray Goose! I always spoke to Gray all the way around the course, and it was a marvel that Jack, with his military background, understood that this was important to us, and he supported it. This was huge for Jack, who once said to me in my first training session, “This arena is a cathedral, and I am the priest. No one talks in here but me.” I wish the evening had lasted longer so we could have shared more stories—oh the tales we could all tell!
All the way on the 1 ½ hour drive home I was filled with gratitude to this majestic man, a legend in his own time, for his faith and belief in me. Very few others gave me any credit at that time. I showed up at my first training session bouncing at the sitting trot, legs moving all around, and so sore after my first day of riding 4 horses there that I literally had to go down the stairs of the house on my bottom, and crawl up them on hands and knees! Yet he patiently and kindly taught me how to be a better rider and trainer of my impatient and demanding horse.
He quickly learned that “You and your horse have a gentleman’s agreement”, meaning that Gray went better for me than usually even for him. And he accepted that totally. Whatever it took for each pairing of his riders and horses to be successful, Jack was behind that 100%. He championed me in 1982 when I broke 2 transverse processes 6 weeks before the World Championships, and talked the USET into sending me and Gray over to Europe anyway. And we took the Team and Individual bronze!
His legacy lives on in each of us who was influenced, taught, trained by him. He lived a much larger than usual life, and he impressed upon us the values behind that life. I owe him much—not only professionally, but personally. I felt that he was very much present at that gathering, and that his beaming smile and fabulous joie de vivre was everywhere. How he loved a good party; especially one in his honor! David did break open a champagne bottle out on the balcony in honor of Jack’s special talent for cleanly cutting the top off with a sword blade. I couldn’t see from where I was standing—don’t know what he used, but the top was jagged instead of a clean shear, so evidently that technique did not get passed along. Lots of stories were shared and times remembered. I would say that the general overall sense was one of gratitude and honor, and I thoroughly enjoyed it all.
It was also fun to slowly peruse the displays on the walls of the Trophy Room in the Rotunda, listing the accomplishments of those in the Olympics, World Championships, and Pan Am Games from the early Army days. A photo of Jenny Camp really took me: her huge eyes, vast intelligence beaming brightly, and the longest set of ears on a horse I’ve ever seen fascinated me! And I felt so honored to have Gray’s and my names and photos up there in such august company.
Those were often tough days back then, but looking back from my current vantage point, I see them now with great satisfaction and am content. And what a springboard for my current goals, an adventure toward which I am moving with great excitement!
Here’s to you, Jack Le Goff, I know you have a special place in the Hereafter….
Kim, what a heartfelt and moving tribute. Thank you so much for sharing it. Especially for those of us who only knew him thru articles and second or third-hand stories, this is a colorful and warm first-hand picture you have drawn.