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Duff McCoy was born November 29th, 1919, outside of Ozark, MO, in his grandfather's farmhouse. The doctor rode miles on horseback at night to deliver the 13-pound baby at 4:00 AM. Walter and Stella took their only son home to a small house with no running water; in a holler so deep direct sunlight was a stranger.
They moved 22 months later to a small house where before too many years Duff would spend hours throwing a rubber ball at each of the six front steps, aiming carefully, one by one, up and down, over and over. Years later he would put these skills to good use, making a name for himself, pitching hundreds of games, and as a rookie Cardinal in 1940, throwing batting practice to Stan Musial.
When their paths crossed decades later, Stan the Man called out to Duff, "Hey, Springfield!" When the Great Depression put an end to the McCoy's railroad tie business, the family moved to town, where Stella worked in a garment factory while Walter took whatever carpentry work he could find. He walked miles each day to help build the WPA trestles that cars pass under to this day when traveling on Springfield's West Bypass. Hard work ran in the family and Duff took a paper route at an early age.
In 1934 he began working at Springfield's original Walgreen's downtown, where he stayed until 1939, when he signed with the Saint Louis Cardinals farm team. He played pro ball for a year then after an injury began keeping books for Ozark Wholesale Beverage Company. When the U.S. joined WWII, Duff joined the Army Air Force. He wanted to be a pilot but at 6'4" was too tall to fit in the cockpit, so he became a mechanic. He served until 1946. During the war, Duff was stationed in the Pacific theater, on Guam and on the tiny island of Tinian, where he was the sergeant major on duty when Colonel Tibbets took off from Tinian in the Enola Gay, headed for Hiroshima. "But I never met the man," Duff would say. He felt humbled to join KY3's Honor Flight for WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., and felt especially moved by the greeting he received from his "second family," after a long, grueling day of air travel and emotional memories. He wept when relating how "the Knauer kids" were waiting in line at the airport late that night to welcome him home.
Duff had begun dating his future wife, Elizabeth Louise "Betty Lou" Cox in 1936. They were married June 22nd, 1941, and stayed that way until her death in 2004. Duff attended Springfield Teachers College (now MSU) for 12 terms during 1937 and 1940, taking every business course offered. After the war, Duff returned to Ozark Wholesale Beverage as a salesman, then sales manager, and eventually served as president of the company. He worked with Ozark and the companies it merged with, first Paramount and then Glazer's, until his semi-retirement in 1984. He remained employed part-time until shortly after his 93rd birthday in 2012, making his sales calls every week. He had just renewed his driver's license for three years, but said he would rather not juggle walking with a cane, carrying his order book, and "messing with doors and stuff" at the same time.
In 2011, when executives from all over the country flew in for a surprise tribute event honoring him and announcing the establishment of The Duff McCoy Achievement Award, an annual recognition award for individuals of outstanding character in the spirits business, Duff was at his best, flattered, humbled, and "on," telling stories accumulated from 77 years in the business. In younger years Duff had been a formidable athlete, a likely key to his longevity, along with his indomitable will. He shot hoops in the very first basketball game ever played in McDonald Arena.
In 1946, he played center on a pick-up team opposite Goose Tatum and the original Harlem Globetrotters, and beat them. Duff participated in the YMCA programs for 27 years as a member of basketball teams and as a referee. In 1968 he was inducted into the Southwest Missouri Basketball Officials Hall of Fame. Duff loved playing golf and felt fortunate to have played many famous courses, notably the legendary Scottish course, St. Andrews. He and wife Betty were charter members of Twin Oaks Country Club and active members for 45 years. Duff hit two hole-in-one's in his lifetime, a rare feat, but defying the odds was par for the course for Duffy.
He lived life to the fullest, soaking up every minute, joyful and optimistic even during the most difficult times of painful losses or ill health. Duff served as President of the Missouri Wholesalers Association, sat on the Board of Directors of the Missouri Restaurant Association, belonged to the American Legion, the Masons, the Shriners, Jesters, and Sertoma club. He attended Springfield Cardinals games and MSU Bears basketball games until only recently, when medical conditions made it too difficult. He enjoyed time with his immediate family, his many friends, colleagues in the spirits industry, and especially his close companions of eight years, Mrs. Betty Carden and "best friend," Angel. He deeply appreciated Betty's son, Mr. George Carden and considered him and the great people of the Carden Circus to be yet another one of his extended families. Duff lived in the house his father built in 1952. He always said he had that house built to live in and to die in.
Sunday night, March 10, 2013, after 93 years, 3 months, 10 days, and 17 hours of a remarkable life, he did exactly that. With his son and daughter at his bedside, he passed away peacefully at home, just the way he wanted. Duff set a fine example time and time again, persevering with a smile over challenges, tragedies, sickness and loss. Although his warm smile, his steady voice, his ever-ready humor, and his staunch optimism will be dearly missed, he left behind an abundant legacy of love. His love and our fond memories will tide us over until we are joined with him again.
Duff was preceded in death by his father Walter and mother Stella, his first son Michael and second son Duff, his wife Betty, and too many friends to list. He is survived by his daughter Judy Richards, Judy's husband J.B., grandchildren Patrick and Katy, and great-grandchildren Brooklyn and Matthew, all of Ft. Worth, Texas; and in Springfield by his son Dale, Dale's wife Mary, and grandchildren Max and Chelsea.
Duff's final gesture of goodwill was the donation of his body to The University of Kansas Willed Body Program at the University of Kansas Medical School. He did not want a funeral. He said he had, "been to too many of 'em already." His wish was for friends and family to celebrate his life by thinking of him while performing a service or a kind act for someone else. In lieu of flowers, friends are invited to demonstrate their sympathy by donating to their favorite local charitable cause. Duff suggests the Boys and Girls Club of Springfield, Sertoma club, or Ozarks Food Harvest.
The family wishes to publicly express their gratitude and appreciation to Dr. Ovais Zubair, Dr. Mark Milne, and their staffs for their expert care, and to all the RN's and LPN's on the 5th floor oncology unit at Cox South for their compassion, humor, and service. Kayla, Felicia, Charity, Becca, Stephen, Karen, Jennifer, Lisa, Joele, and others: your kindness, consideration, and professionalism was exemplary when it was needed most. Lastly, Dale and Judy wish to send a limitless thank you to Linda Wheatley of Regional Hospice.
Published in the News-Leader on Mar. 17, 2013