Former Churchill Downs executive Jerry Lawrence dies

       Jerry Lawrence, who served as Churchill Downs’ general manager, executive vice president and COO from 1984-1991, died Oct. 1. He was 81.
        Lawrence came to Churchill Downs from Yonkers Raceway, where he served as vice president-general manager. He came to Churchill Downs as the No. 2 man to new track president Tom Meeker, with the track embarking on a series of major capital-improvement projects that included constructing a turf course, a new 20-horse paddock and extensive renovation of areas in the grandstand and clubhouse. He also was part of the leadership team overseeing the first  Breeders’ Cup ever at Churchill Downs in 1988.
        Jerry was a true general manager, constantly touring the facility to make sure things were running properly and nothing fell through the cracks. He understood the varied departments that must work and mesh together for a successful racetrack.
        Lawrence left Churchill Downs to become executive vice president at the New York Racing Association, a post he held into 1994. He subsequently became executive vice president of the bet-processing company Autotote and ultimately president and CEO of Autotote Enterprises before retiring in 2001.
        Lawrence lived in Marco Island, Fla., and Landenberg, Pa., in retirement. From his obituary in the Naples Daily News:  He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Rita Duffy Lawrence, and his sons Gerald (Stefanie Porges) and Brennen (Whitney Lawrence). He was proud to be “PopPop” to five grandchildren: Grace, Anna, Rose, William and Virginia. Born to David Leo Lawrence and Alice Goldin Lawrence, he graduated Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, and then LaSalle College in Philadelphia. He served in the United States Air Force and as Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party before beginning a long career in the horse racing industry, including senior leadership positions at Yonkers Raceway, Churchill Downs, the New York Racing Association and Autotote – Scientific Games. In retirement, he was active in his church and community, and held the rank of Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus. In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to the James A. Finnegan Foundation (, for which he served as a director for 43 years. Burial will be private.
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Jennie Rees