LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Hurricane Katrina had devastated the Gulf Coast, and in its fury tore up major rail lines leading into New Orleans. Massive barges had been tossed from the ocean, and landed on top of the tracks. To make matters more difficult, the rail lines threaded through swamps. Very few roads could reach the tracks.
Someone had to get in there and free up the tracks so New Orleans' commerce and business could start back up.
That someone was Rick Corman.
When WKYT videographer Kenny Harvener and I arrived at a base camp in Mississippi to find Rick Corman I had heard the name, but did not know the man. We soon found out.
A helicopter landed, and out jumped the pilot. Yes, Rick Corman. Dressed in his RJ Corman uniform of red he dashed over to shake our hands, and offered a personal trip from the sky of what his crews were dealing with in the swamps.
I jumped in the seat next to Rick, and Kenny with camera gear along side got in the back. Rick flew that helicopter over the swamps, and then slowly brought it down on the tracks near one of his crews. There was no where else to land. He did it like he had been landing on tracks in swamps all his life. He was proud of the massive job his company was performing. He had built this company over decades from the ground up, and knew every detail involved. This...even though he was fighting cancer, and told me he was "retired." Yea, right! Rick loved the railroad, and ran a hugely successful company that employed thousands. He was not retired.
Rick's generosity was quick to shine on us. Kenny and I had no place to stay overnight. We were in a remote area, but even the hotels in nearby towns had no water or electricity. It was a disaster area. Rick quickly offered to put us up in a new camper. We felt like we had hit the jackpot. He fed us, he laughed with us, and patiently explained how his crews were working. His smile and laugh took your heart. We became friends. It was easy to like Rick.
Through the years we would have a breakfast or lunch together. He did not want to go fancy. Bob Evans, Perkins Restaurant, or his companies lunch place at the hanger were his favorites. He always greeted the waitress with a smile and a hearty hello. And then without any fanfare he would slip them a large bill. I'm guessing a $100 bill, but Rick wasn't one to brag or show off. You could tell he related to hard working people. He was one of those people. He grew up working hard.
Our friendship grew over the years. We both liked to bike and run. He helped with charity events. His partner Tammie and my wife Noelle became fast friends. He invited my daughters Leah and Christina to fly with him to his dinner train in Bardstown, and he took us to the Derby on his train. First class all the way. We were honored and humbled by all that he represented and gave us.
Never in my life did I expect him to offer a trip of a lifetime. My bucket list through the years had always included a visit to the beaches of Normandy in France where so many sacrificed their lives to fight the Nazis. I think Rick knew time was slowly running out, and if he was going to take us to France it would have to be sooner rather than later.
So in the Fall of 2010, Rick and Tammie flew me and Noelle on his private jet to Paris. I thought I had gone to heaven. He took care of our room at a beautiful Paris hotel, and of course everyone on staff knew Rick by name. It was like he was coming home. He arranged for us to take a van to Normandy. Then something unexpected happened that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Before we could walk to the Normandy beach, Rick and I were invited to represent the United States, and help retire the flag at the American cemetery where thousands of our troops are buried. The moment was incredible. I never felt closer to my country. We helped fold the flag, and with tears in my eyes I thought about all those who died at D-Day. Rick shared that moment with me, and I will never forget it.
Rick leaves big shoes to fill, not just at his company, but as a friend to our community. He leaves me, and us, with a great lesson in compassion, friendship, and courage. I am honored to have known the man, and my heart is full with his love and laughter. God Bless his children, and Tammie. Rest in peace my dear friend.