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Thursday, September 6, 2001
Ledford also noted horse racing broadcaster
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Cawood Ledford, the longtime radio voice of the Kentucky Wildcats and one of the nation's most respected horse racing broadcasters, died Wednesday. He was 75.
He had cancer and died at the Appalachian Regional Hospital in Harlan, a University of Kentucky spokeswoman said.
He was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987 and is one of only a handful of non-players to have a jersey hanging from the rafters at Rupp Arena.
"He was so good at what he did as far as just bringing the games to life for his listeners," said Tom Leach, the voice of the Kentucky football program who will begin calling basketball games this fall. "He was as much a part of Kentucky basketball and its storied history than any of the coaches or players."
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of a great friend in Cawood Ledford," former Kentucky men's basketball coach Rick Pitino and wife Joanne said in a statement. "He was a special man whose class, dignity and friendship I will always cherish. Our sincere sympathy goes out to his wife Francis. We love you Cawood."
The son of a coal miner, Ledford grew up in Harlan and served in the Marines during World War II. He earned a degree from Centre College in Danville and taught high school English.
He began calling Kentucky football and basketball games in 1953. He retired after the 1991-92 basketball season.
"Cawood meant as much to fans of Kentucky football and basketball as anyone ever has," said Wildcats basketball coach Tubby Smith. "I struggle to come up with the proper words to describe how good he was other than just saying that he was 'the best.' Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time."
Despite his Appalachian roots, there was no real hint of the hills in his deep, soothing voice. His down-home style and vivid descriptions endeared him to the legions of Kentucky fans in the mountains and beyond.
Even former President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Ledford at a 1999 appearance in Hazard to deliver a speech about Appalachian poverty.
"I was thinking that if old Cawood had been a political announcer instead of a basketball announcer, and I could have kept him with me these last 25 years, I'd have never lost an election," Clinton said.
Ledford also became a nationally renowned horse racing broadcaster, calling the Kentucky Derby more than 15 times for CBS Radio.
Upon his retirement, Ledford returned to eastern Kentucky, moving to a farm about 10 miles south of Harlan. He was a fixture at Kentucky football and basketball games until his health made it impossible for him to attend.
"I've always felt that in broadcasting your total allegiance is to the person twisting the dial and giving you the courtesy of listening to you," Ledford told The Associated Press in 1991. "Sports are the greatest drama in the world because no one knows what's going to happen. And it's your job to paint a word picture for the thousands who would love to be there but can't."
Ledford is survived by his wife, Frances, whom he met and married in 1974.
Funeral arrangements in Harlan are pending.
Information from SportsTicker was used in this report.
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