(Editor's note: David Cooper Blee died on Dec. 29 at the age of 66. Among other things, in his professional life he was vice president of Runnymede Farm in Paris, Ky., an internationally recognized expert in the field of nuclear energy, and an advocate for the Thoroughbred industry through his involvement with the Kentucky Equine Education Project. Brad Cummings, former president and co-founder of the Paulick Report, provides a more personal remembrance of David Blee.)
David Blee and I met at a major inflection point in my life. I had come to terms with the fact a Broadway career was likely not in my future and trying to navigate the next chapter of my life. Always politically interested, I began writing and submitting columns anywhere that would take a blind submission, hoping somewhere I could catch a break. As a business associate of my dad, David saw my writing and we began to talk. It would be the beginning of a road that would change my future and have an impact on many others along the way. David was my first mentor.
I was nervous every time we talked. To this then 28-year-old, David was larger than life. A well-connected politico in Washington, D.C., whose Christmas card that year featured him with President George W. Bush, the significance of the opportunity was not lost on me. He knew I had no political experience but must have seen something in me. Working at a Starbucks in Louisville, Ky., during the summer of 2006, David gave me the chance to operate as campaign manager for a state representative race in Bourbon County.
We lost that election, but he stood by my efforts and helped me to find my next opportunity, running Ken Upchurch's State Treasury primary race. While we did not win that campaign either, the time and effort I put in that race positioned me to become Trey Grayson's Political Director in his 2007 reelection race for Secretary of State. Trey won, and held strong margins in Louisville, so when the Louisville GOP chairmanship came up for election, I was positioned as the “fresh face” candidate and won. I took over as the youngest GOP chairman in Louisville's history after just a year and a half of campaign involvement. Like a good mentor, he never got the credit he deserved for these achievements.
In the same month, knowing that the chairmanship was an unpaid position, David introduced me to Ray Paulick. David loved few things more than the Thoroughbred horse racing industry. This was due to being married to Mary Elizabeth “Biz” Clay, whose family owns Runnymede Farm, the oldest Thoroughbred farm in Kentucky. Ray and I developed what would become the Paulick Report, an online horse racing publication that has grown and thrived in a downward trending industry despite beginning during the recession of 2008. There simply is no Paulick Report without David Blee.
And now, as I am in the middle of my next act, it is not hyperbole in the least to say there is no EquiLottery Games without David. There would have never been a lottery game based on live horse racing called Win Place Show without his influence. Major League Baseball and Speedway Motorsports would have never jumped into the draw game space and none of the myriad of other incredible achievements we are set to make in 2020 would have been possible. That's the power of a mentor.
Through his example, I've done my imperfect best to pay his example forward. It's because of David that I sponsored a Little Brother in the Big Brother, Big Sister program and have watched with joy as Tyler has burst through the small doors I was able to open for him. It's because of David that I always take a meeting or phone call with someone trying to get into the horse racing, gaming or political arenas. And it's because of him that I have even the slightest understanding of how to lead a team of Millennials as we build a new future for lottery and live sports.
David's legacy lives well beyond his influence on my life. He was a bright and charismatic innovator and thought leader. He was a loving husband and father. He was passionate about politics and was an example of how we should all fight for what we believe but learn how to disagree agreeably. But the number one lesson I will take from David is the importance of mentorship, even when you get nothing obvious in return. Or maybe especially when you get nothing in return. Life's greatest gifts live where no obvious self interest lies.
I didn't get to thank David in this life the way I wish I would have. I'm sure I'm not the first mentee to feel this way, especially when your mentor dies at the way too young age of 66. But I can help his legacy live on, even in this small way.
Thank you, David Blee. You changed my life forever and in turn, changed so many others as well. I can never repay you except to say I will be sure your example lives on. I only hope that's enough.
Brad Cummings, former president and co-founder of the Paulick Report, is founder and CEO of EquiLottery Games.
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