David Elliott Hooper, 88, of Georgetown, Texas, passed away peacefully on Monday after after a long battle with cancer. As in life, his beloved wife Martha was by his side.
Hooper was born on Jan. 3, 1935, to Raymond and Doris Hooper in East Rutherford, N.J. After attending the United States Naval Academy through an appointment from Congress (1953-56), he completed his studies by graduating from University of Pennsylvania as part of the class of 1961.
After graduating with a degree in International Relations, Hooper began a storied career in the horse racing industry that spanned over 60 years. He held many regulatory positions, including executive secretary of the Illinois Racing Board, and served as a steward at the state and racetrack levels in eight states. In 2018, he was the recipient of the Pete Pedersen Award from the Racing Officials Accreditation Program, which recognizes professional excellence, integrity, and benevolent consideration in the performance of their duties. Often referred to respectfully as “Judge,” Hooper was regarded widely as being fair in his stewardship and interactions with fellow horsemen, while prioritizing the ethics of the game and safety of the jockeys. He retired in 2020, his final position as steward at Canterbury Park in Minnesota.
In addition to his positions as a regulator, Hooper also held positions in executive administration at the Thoroughbred Breeders of Kentucky (1970-76), the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders (1984-86), and the Texas Thoroughbred Association (1997-2012). One of his crowning accomplishments included a special assignment to lead the Smithsonian FolkLife Festival (1973) showcasing the state of Kentucky in Washington D.C. The festival included displays of Kentucky heritage such as arts & crafts, tobacco, bourbon, and a straightaway for horse racing beside the Washington Monument.
Hooper attended or covered over 40 Kentucky Derby races as a fan and a commentator. His most memorable Derby was in 1973 when Secretariat won and began what would become a coveted Triple Crown achievement. Throughout his career in media, Hooper worked as a columnist, commentator, reporter and race caller for various outlets, including Daily Racing Form, WHAS-TV, ESPN, Lexington Herald-Leader, and the Miami Herald.
He also served as coordinator and lecturer at the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program, specializing in racing laws and enforcement, covering all aspects of regulatory oversight. Hooper was a mentor to many who came through the program.
In 1995, Hooper met Martha Hufford at the Texas Racing Commission. He and Martha soon married and enjoyed 25 years as husband and wife. They spent many years traveling across the United States, while enjoying various hobbies.
Throughout his life, Hooper was an avid sports enthusiast. He particularly enjoyed playing tennis, which translated to a lifetime sport for him and his daughters. His love of Philadelphia sports teams, both at the college and professional level, was well known. He had an endearing interest in his grandchildren’s achievements through sports and academics, including watching films of lacrosse and football games.
Hooper was predeceased by his father and mother Raymond and Doris Hooper, his beloved brother Paul and his wife Kathy, as well as his grandson Ethan. He is survived by his wife Martha, Sara Hufford (step daughter), Warren Hufford (step son), Cynthia Slachta (daughter and wife of Michael), Suzanne Hooper (daughter), Jennifer Kash (daughter and wife of Brian), Kathleen Slachta (granddaughter), Elle Slachta (granddaughter), Grace Slachta (granddaughter), Mick Slachta (grandson), Bryce Kash (grandson), Paige Kash (granddaughter), Bradley Hufford (grandson), Aron Hufford (grandson) and his wife Kara, Haley Hufford (granddaughter). Elizabeth Sweens (granddaughter), Hannah Sweens (granddaughter), as well as five great grandchildren.
Services are pending.