By John Manzi
SULLIVAN COUNTY February 15, 2002 Lifes funny. And sometimes it aint fair.
Tomorrow I will be attending a funeral Mass for my longtime friend Jim Normoyle, who succumbed to cancer on February 9.
His passing, at age 66, not only shocked me but all who knew him. Just a few months ago in early October Jim drove his beloved trotter, Jacpot Dol, to back to back victories here at the Mighty M. And it wasnt more than a month afterward that he learned of his dreaded disease.
But he never let on to his friends how sick he really was.
No, Jim wasnt a professional harness driver. He did, however, have a full license. He was a sportsman, whose love of harness racing was paramount to him over the last 25 years of his life.
Jim was a professional man who retired a few years ago upon selling his radio station. With that sale he had all the money he ever would have needed to enjoy his retirement. For five years or so, he lived his life to the fullest. But, cancer doesnt care if youre rich or poor. And all the money in the world doesnt replace good health.
To say that Jim was a great guy was an understatement. He was the best.
Jim was a sport, often treating his friends to dinner or a Broadway Show. He had the means to help and his outpouring of kindness was genuine. While at his radio station WSUS-FM in Franklin, NJ he was a giver by supporting hundreds of area non-profit agencies and organizations and was a board director of several.
And Jim was a family man. Married for 43 years, he and his wife, Terry, enjoyed every moment of life, especially sharing time with their four lovely daughters and their two grandchildren.
A native of Astoria, Queens, Jim was a veteran of the U.S. Navy, serving in the Korean War. His entire professional career was spent in the entertainment and media professions. He worked as an announcer, disc-jockey, and sales director at a number of radio stations in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
In 1972 he joined WSUS-FM and over a quarter of a century there went from sales director to general manager to owner of the northeastern New Jersey pop-rock radio station.
It was in the mid-1970s that I first met Jim Normoyle, who also went professionally by the name of Jay Edwards. Back in the days he was on the air waves, ethnic names were not used. Hence, Jay Edwards, since Jims middle name was Edward and Jay was the initial of his first name.
But I always had a tough time knowing what to call him. Mostly I called him Jay. However, when he started driving standardbreds he was programmed as James Normoyle and everyone started calling him Jim. But not Jimmy he never liked that moniker.
Im proud to say that I was instrumental in getting Jay, er, Jim, involved in harness racing. During the mid-1970s when he was sales director at WSUS, we met when Monticello Raceway bought air-time on the station. I introduced him to the sport and wed travel usually in his stations limousine to various race tracks to enjoy the harness action. And what had begun with selling advertisements about harness racing turned into a lifetime passion for Jim.
Initially, through his affiliation with the radio station he became a member of the Monticello-Goshen Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA), and eventually served seven years as president of the organization. Then in the early 1980s I asked him to drive in races for media personnel as a promotional stunt at Monticello Raceway and Goshen Historic Track. Thats all it took Jim became hooked on the sport.
He later purchased a race horse and, being a hands-on guy, set out to obtain a drivers license since harness racing had become such a passion with him.
He did all the background work needed and obtained a license to drive harness horses. Then Jim began driving in matinee races and became an amateur driver. Later he represented the United States competing against his counterparts in Europe and Canada. Even after obtaining his full license Jim maintained amateur status.
In the early 1990s, he added to his stable of racehorses and began breeding and raising colts from his own stock. And he devoted much more time to harness racing, driving his stock whenever he could. But he expanded his endeavors after retiring from business in the late 90s.
At the time of his death he owned five or six horses, with his racing stock being handled by his friend Johnny DeSimone Jr.
Among his greatest pleasures was driving against and beating professional reinsmen in wagering races at Monticello Raceway and Pocono Downs. He especially enjoyed competing against drivers he idolized. And over the years Jim drove many winners.
In 1994 Jim was the recipient of the Monticello-Goshen USHWA chapters Good Guy Award. and was planning to run for second vice president for the National organization of USHWA before his illness.
Besides his residence in Franklin, NJ, he had a condo in the Florida Keys where he enjoyed time on his boat deep-sea fishing. And during his winters in the Keys he participated in area theater. He also was a classic car enthusiast, restoring dozens of award winning 1950s vintage autos.
Recently he began a career as a restaurateur opening the successful Columbos Italian Restaurant in Otisville.
I lost a dear friend with his passing, but Jim Normoyle will be sorely missed by all who had the distinct pleasure of knowing him.