1936 - 2007
On Monday, October 1, 2007, we lost a good friend: Al Oerter. Al was a four-time Olympic Gold Medal Winner in the discus, widely recognized as the greatest discus thrower of all time. He won his medals in Melbourne (1956), Rome (1960), Tokyo (1964) and Mexico City (1968). He was not the favorite in any of them. He came out of retirement at the age of 44 to qualify for the 1980 team, but didn't compete due to the US boycott of the Moscow Games. He is one of only two athletes ever to win gold medals in four consecutive Olympics in the same event. (Carl Lewis is the other one.) He is the only one to set Olympic records each time.
Here's how we came to know Al. We were browsing in the Arts for ACT Gallery in Ft. Myers, FL in early 2004, prior to
attending a performance at the Florida Repertory Theater. Rick spotted a painted discus signed by Al who had become
a noted painter and motivational speaker after retiring from competition. Rory decided the discus would make the perfect
60th birthday present for Rick, secretly purchased it, and hid it away until his birthday 8 months later. As Rick's
approached, Rory decided that it would be a terrific surprise if she could contact Al (wherever he lived) and invite him
and his wife, Cathy to the dinner she'd planned to celebrate the occasion. It turned out that Al and Cathy lived right
here in Ft. Myers Beach and they accepted the invitation. At the dinner, they were introduced to Rick as "Al and Cathy"
from out of town visiting our friends John and Charlotte who were also at the dinner. Rory insisted that Rick open his
present right away. When he saw the discus, Rick picked it up, showed it around and, when Rory asked him "Who signed it?"
Rick answered "Al Oerter did!" With that, he handed it to Al and said "Do you know who this guy is?" Before he could
tell Al who Al was, Rory stopped him and said "Honey, meet Al Oerter." For one of the (very) few times in his life, Rick
was speechless--but only for a moment!! Thereafter, Rick always kidded Al that he was Rick's 60th birthday present.
It was the best birthday Rick could ever hope to have.
Al was a remarkable human being. He was involved with many charities and organizations, most of them somehow related to his work as an artist. He regularly donated his work to the annual Arts for ACT art auction and was an avid supporter of the Lee County Alliance for the Arts. When Rick mentioned that his company was having a sports memorabilia auction to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Charlie, Al not only donated two pieces to be auctioned off, but also insisted on attending! He was well-known locally, not to mention around the world both for his accomplishments as an athlete and artist. His most recent passion was the establishment of the Art of the Olympians Gallery in Ft. Myers to promote the work of former Olympians in the arts. Unfortunately, he didn't live to see his dream become reality.
Not only was Al a gold medal athlete, he was also a gold medal human being. In addition to all his charitable and volunteer work, Al's efforts to encourage kids to study hard, compete in sports and maintain a drug-free lifestyle are exemplified by the Al Oerter Trophy awarded to a deserving Lee County student each year. For a man who competed at almost 300 pounds (recently around 240), he was, as Cathy describes him, "a gentle giant". Having suffered a heart attack several years ago and being "brought back from the dead", he was advised to have a heart transplant. Al refused saying he'd "play the cards he was dealt" and to give the heart to someone younger.
As big a sports "nut" as Rick is, his fondest memories of Al are the many discussions they had about contemporary
art and a common background and philosophy of life. Both Rick and Al grew up on Long Island and spent their
working lives in the computer industry. In retrospect, it's a good thing that Rick never told Al who Al was. There's
no way he could have gotten it right! Al Oerter was one of the most admirable people we've ever met and we will miss him