Shirley Day Smith, 99, Was Six-Decade NYRA Press Aide

Posted Sept. 24, 2018

Shirley Day Smith, recipient of the 2001 Joe Palmer award from the National Turf Writers Association, died on Sept. 20 at age 99 after a brief illness.

Smith spent more than 60 years as the administrative assistant in the press office for the New York Racing Association and its predecessors before retiring from NYRA in the mid-1990’s. Among the publicity directors she worked for were Pat O’Brien, Pat Lynch, Sam Kanchuger, Chris Scherf, Steve Schwartz and Glen Mathes.

“Shirley was loved by everybody,” Mathes said. “And I’d venture to say she helped more people than anyone in the history of horse racing. That was certainly true when it came to members of the media. She was a great worker and an even better person.”

Mathes recalled a humorous incident involving Smith when there was a triple dead heat at Belmont Park in October 1991.

“Shirley said, ‘We’re going to need a lot of copies of that photo finish picture because I remember we did the last time it happened,’” Mathes said. “The last time it had happened was 47 years earlier, in the 1944 Carter Handicap.”

Free-lance writer Paula Rodenas, a close friend who handled funeral arrangements, said, “We were friends for over 30 years. She took me under her wing when I first started covering horse racing, and she was a mentor to me through all that time.”

Smith, who lived in Lido Beach, NY, was a popular figure among media in New York and beyond.  In addition to NTWA's (now NTWAB) Joe Palmer Award for Meritorious Service to Racing, she was presented a “Good Gal Award” in 1987 by the New York Press Photographers Association for cooperation and assistance to the media, and she was named as a Kentucky Colonel by the Governor of Kentucky. Her obituary says she was the "backbone of the New York Turf Writers Association for many years."

Jim McCulley, a New York Daily News sportswriter, was Smith's longtime companion. She is being laid to rest today at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Photo by Bob Coglianese
Release edited by Dick Downey