Dave Cooley, instrumental race organizer in Baltimore running community, dies

David Lee Cooley, an instrumental organizer in the Baltimore running community, died of Alzheimer’s disease Jan. 5 at Gilchrist Center Towson. He was 91.

“He was such a people person,” daughter Terri Block said.

Mr. Cooley was born in Charleston, West Virginia, and grew up between Baltimore and a farm in Bedford, Pennsylvania, where he ran track and graduated from Bedford High School in 1951. His father, Laban Cooley, was a car salesman, and his mother, Eula Cooley, was a seamstress.

Mr. Cooley joined the U.S. Navy straight out of high school. He served as an electrician on aircraft radio systems during the Korean War but did not deploy overseas.

Mr. Cooley started working at the Internal Revenue Service while a student at the Johns Hopkins University. He graduated with a degree in business management in 1964 and continued working at the IRS for 30 years. He met his wife, Audrey Cooley, while both were working in the audit division. Their first date was a walk in Patterson Park, and they married in Baltimore in 1970 before settling in Towson.

Cooley did not start running until he was around 40 years old in the 1970s, eventually running to work every morning, joining the Baltimore Road Runners Club and completing four marathons.

“My mom drove him from our house to Roland Avenue, and he ran into work very early, so no one would see him running into the office in shorts. He didn’t think that would be fitting of a supervisor,” Ms. Block said.

Although Mr. Cooley was an accomplished runner, his legacy in the Baltimore running community is as an organizer.

While still at the IRS, he started his own race timing company, which eventually became Charm City Run Events, and once he retired in 1989, he devoted most of his time to race timing and management. He directed the inaugural Baltimore marathon in 2001.

Josh Levinson, founder and CEO of Charm City Run, said Mr. Cooley helped persuade him to open the store in 2002.

“It was sort of incidental how he got started as an organizer. The market was there, asking him to fill a need and to help racing in Baltimore grow from 50 road runners in a race to 20,000 people in the Race for the Cure in Baltimore,” Mr. Levinson said. “People knew it was going to go well if he was involved because he was going to pull off a logistical feat.”

In his trademark bright-yellow jacket on race day, Mr. Cooley organized events that raised more than $10 million for nonprofit causes, including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the NCR Marathon and the Zoo Zoom.

“Our house got taken over by race cones and T-shirts every weekend. He was very good at organizing, and he loved everything about it and being around people,” Ms. Block said. “It was impressive the way he built relationships with people who were willing to volunteer. He had this whole crew of people waking up at 5 a.m. on the weekend.”

Around Baltimore, Mr. Cooley loved the Orioles and always preferred to be eating at a diner. In 2011, he ran his last half marathon at 79 years old, surrounded by Mr. Levinson and friends.

Mr. Cooley is survived by his wife, Audrey Cooley, of Baltimore; his daughter, Terri Block, of Baltimore; his son, Michael Cooley, of Middle River; four grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

“I don’t think there is another individual that is more responsible for the running explosion in the area,” Mr. Levinson said. “If there is no Dave Cooley, I guess somebody fills the void, and there are 5K races and that kind of thing, but you’re talking about thousands and thousands of runners in races that raised millions and millions of dollars.”