Theodore "Bowtie Teddy" Cole, 102, a well-dressed retired real estate investor who spent nearly every day for the past 55 years at horse race tracks, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 1 at his Washington home.
Mr. Cole was such a fixture at the Laurel Park track that employees celebrated his June 1 birthdays with a cake and new bowtie. His son, Marshal L. Cole of Potomac, told a Washington Post sportswriter in May that Mr. Cole learned his betting system at South Florida's Hialeah Park racetrack from the brother of infamous crime boss Owney "Killer" Madden.
But Mr. Cole's favorite pari-mutuel teller, Mary Betz, said that after each loss, "he'd come in here with a new system." Not surprisingly, he wasn't wildly successful over the 31 years she knew him, she said, but he was a very moderate bettor.
"He never bet a lot of money, just a couple of dollars a race. It got him up and dressed and out of the house. If he bet $30 and won $15, he was happy," she said.
His son said that by the standards of normal business, Mr. Cole did very well. "But there's a racetrack tradition among the real aficionados that they never talk about what they won or lost. He wouldn't even tell me, except for slipping once or twice about a particularly good or bad day," he said.
Betz said that Mr. Cole, who didn't let his reliance on a wheelchair prevent him from dressing sharply in a business suit, was mentally sharp and witty in an old-fashioned way. "He'd say, 'Mary, give me a couple of quarters with my change so I can have money for the peep show.' That was a favorite saying of his," she said, laughing.
Mr. Cole became a handicapper in the "sport of kings" more than a half-century ago, lured into the life by three well-to-do brothers-in-law who would journey to the local tracks in a big Cadillac or take a train down to Florida, book rooms in a beachfront hotel and cast their bets throughout the region.
He was able to afford the life because he married well, to one of the "Livingston sisters," whose family owned a retail clothing shop, S. Livingston & Son, that custom-tailored military uniforms. Adele Livingston Cole, his wife of 65 years, died in 1996 at the age of 95.
But the Philadelphia-born Cole was a businessman on his own merit as well. He moved as a teenager to Washington, where by age 21 he had established an auto parts distributorship and an auto glass replacement business, called DC Auto Glass and Parts. By the 1930s, that evolved into a Pontiac dealership, and then one for Chrysler-Plymouth, called Marcy Motors.
During World War II, he joined the Office of Price Administration, where he oversaw wartime food and materiel rationing in the District. After the war, he resumed his business career, developing and investing in real estate.
A contributor to a variety of philanthropic organizations, his favorite was the District of Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, where his wife volunteered as a braillist for 30 years. Mr. Cole was a member of the Washington Hebrew Congregation and the Woodmont Country Club.
He also enjoyed spending time with his three granddaughters and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. Cole told the sportswriter in May that he loved every bit of the handicapping life, "when you get the winners. When you get the losers, no damn good. Everybody likes winners."
His Preakness pick, Smarty Jones, won by 111/2 lengths, all gained on the homestretch.