COLUMN: Remembering Randy Coote

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He was a man of elegance and style. He was an entertaining raconteur, a symphony-level musician with a sense of humor that shone through even in life’s darkest moments.

He was also my friend.

Randy Coote died last week, his body ravaged by cancer and the effects of years of stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that left him unable to write for more than two decades.

Before he was forced to retire, he was an excellent crime and court reporter and entertainment editor for the Chatham Daily News.

He became known locally as “Mr. Entertainment,” with images of him, his pencil-thin mustache and ever-present fedora or Panama hat, plastered on signs and billboards throughout the city.

If you were an entertainer of note who came through Chatham in the 1990s, he interviewed you.

From his humorous discussion with three-time Grammy winner Polka King Walter Ostanek about the possible melding of polka and punk music to his testy exchange with then-Mayor Bill Erickson about his plan to blast crows out of the sky with shotguns, Randy kept the 40,000 or so then-readers of the Daily News informed and entertained.

The stories about Randy are many, but I’ll share one with you that indicates the type of fun we had together.

At this particular time, Randy was one of five editors who worked the very early shift at the Chatham Daily News, starting their day at 6 a.m.

When sports editor Mike Bennett came in to check messages on the overnight sports line where local teams called in their scores, he came across one from Randy saying that he couldn’t come into work because he was in jail.

It turns out that Randy had been visited that morning by the police who had served him with what was known as a W/C, a Warrant of Committal for unpaid parking fines.

Since he didn’t have the cash, off to jail he went.

His message asked if we could bring money for the fines.

We raided the newsroom coffee fund, threw in a few dollars, and sent Tory James, one of our photographers, to bail him out (after waiting an hour or so to give him a taste of prison life).

On the way back to the paper, Randy asked if anyone but the editors knew about his predicament. Tory lied (as instructed) and said of course no one did.

In the meantime, we had a steady stream of Daily News employees line up in the sports department to hear the message of a very worried-sounding Randy pleading for us to rescue him.

He ended up going through the classified, circulation, and advertising departments on his way to our newsroom, which was at the back of the second floor, as fellow workers along the way had a giggle at his expense.

He had been treated well in jail, having been given breakfast and a pack of cigarettes before he was sprung. They did take his belt and shoelaces (fearing the worst, of course) while having plenty of fun with their celebrity “guest.”

Randy spent his final days at the Chatham-Kent Hospice marveling at the level of care and compassion he received.

He felt special and said that if he was a millionaire lottery winner, he would give the hospice a good amount of that money because their business model “doesn’t get them a lot of repeat customers.”

Randy took his job and responsibility to the community very seriously but demonstrated to anyone who met him that he had fun doing it.

Rest well, Randy, and hold some bail money for us.

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