By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Many of us lost a good friend on Saturday in an unimaginable way that left me feeling almost numb upon hearing the tragic news.
Veteran radio personality Larry Cotlar was killed in the flash flooding that occurred in the Des Moines area on Saturday. He was 66 years old when raging waters reportedly ripped him away from his stalled van in northwest Des Moines and carried him to his death.
At approximately 8:50 p.m., Des Moines Police received a report of an occupied van, stalled in high water at 50th and Twana Drive. As officers responded, they learned the occupants had left the van, and that Larry was swept away by the flood waters.
Responders located his body several blocks from where the van had stalled.
And now a community that he touched in so many ways is left to grieve and suffer, while trying to make sense out of something that is so cruel.
Larry Cotlar loved people, he loved sports and he loved conversation. He fed those passions as a long-time radio personality in Central Iowa and as the Voice of the Drake Bulldogs, which is also my alma mater.
Larry was also an umpire for youth softball and would sometimes work a tripleheader in oppressive heat if needed.
He also loved all kinds of music and I was reminded of that when my next-door neighbor told me a story this morning about he and Larry and a mutual friend attending a Grateful Dead concert together in 1977 in Kansas City, Mo. It was the first time my neighbor had met Larry, but they quickly hit it off because my neighbor said Larry made him feel so welcome and relaxed.
Larry wasn’t motivated by money or prestige, but more so by the pursuit of knowledge, friendship and happiness.
Drake University is easy to overlook in the shadows of Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa, and that’s why I always admired and appreciated Larry’s devotion to my alma mater.
Drake was the center of his busy universe and he was proud of it.
And that made me proud to be a Bulldog.
I've spent most of my career as a journalist living in Iowa City and covering the Iowa Hawkeyes, but Drake will always have a special place in my heart because it's my alma mater.
Larry knew that and it helped to build our friendship.
We didn't speak on a regular basis, but it was always a pleasure to cross paths with Larry because he made you feel good.
Larry had a special gift for making his friends, his colleagues, and even those who he only knew casually, feel so important, because to him, they were important.
Everybody mattered to Larry Cotlar. He never took himself too serious and he didn’t have a pretentious bone in his body.
“I’m just crushed to learn we lost Larry,” said Keith Murphy, who is the Sports Director for WHO television in Des Moines. “Larry Cotlar was the nicest man in sports broadcasting. Always smiling, always upbeat.
“Larry loved talking sports, and he would do it anywhere, anytime without regard for money or ego. He just wanted to work---though Larry would never call it work.”
Most of his friends and colleagues, including Murphy, called Larry the “Cotman.” And he truly was the “Cotman,” a one-of-a-kind sports personality who embraced life and the people in it.
“The Cotman loved sports, loved people, and loved life,” Murphy said. “It’s a tragedy we lost Larry too soon.”
Larry always had a great appreciation for life, but he came to appreciate the little things even more after having recently survived prostate cancer. And like everything else in his life, Larry met cancer head on and used a positive approach to help beat it. He also became active in cancer awareness and did what he could to help spread the word.
I used to do a weekly radio spot with Larry and always looked forward to hearing from him because he had a way of lifting your spirits. He always was positive and upbeat, and you felt the same way after speaking with him.
Larry respected my family’s numerous ties to Drake University, and that meant a great deal to me. He was sincere and genuine.
And he was curious in a good way.
Larry was known for his rolodex, so much so that he wrote a book and chose the title, "The Biggest Rolodex in Sports." It was published in 2015 and the title was in reference to Larry's rolodex, which supposedly has phone numbers for just about everybody who matters in sports from a state-wide standpoint.
Larry had them because he asked for them as any good reporter would do, and the people with power and influence trusted and respected him.
I’m guessing by now that Larry already has been reunited with former Drake legends Paul Morrison, Willie McCarter and Red Murrell in a much better place.
I kept thinking that this morning as a way to cope with his death.
The circumstances surrounding his death are just so bizarre and they hit home with me because I grew up in northwest Des Moines and know the area where the tragedy occurred very well.
Never in my worst nightmares would I have imagined something like this happening, especially to a friend.
My thoughts and prayers to Larry’s family as they try to move on without the centerpiece to their lives.
This tragedy is a sad reminder that life is precious, fragile and unpredictable.