As a young boy, Richie Moran struggled with reading. Legend has it that he would take a flashlight and a book to bed, hiding under the sheets and reading the same paragraphs over and over in an attempt to memorize them.
It was that early experience that helped Moran – the Cornell men’s lacrosse legend and author of three national championships, who died April 24 after a long illness at age 85 – hone one of his most recognizable traits: his ability to remember people and the details of their lives.
“It is a wonderful gift for me, because it enables me to have strong relationships with people,” wrote Moran in his 2017 autobiography, “It’s Great to Be Here.”
And it was that ability to connect with people that made Moran a larger-than-life presence in the lacrosse, Cornell and Ithaca communities.
The coach of Big Red men’s lacrosse from 1969-97, and founder and former president of the Irish National Lacrosse Foundation, Moran never missed an opportunity to connect with new people – using a warm handshake, a welcoming smile and a bit of blarney to leave everyone he met feeling like a dear old friend.
“During my time at Cornell, I attended countless events – games, meetings, awards dinners and fundraisers – where I got to see Richie in action, and I can think of no one that commanded a room like he did,” said Andy Noel, the Meakem*Smith Director of Athletics and Physical Education.
“Richie had an effortless charm that won people over almost immediately,” he said. “His passing is a tremendous loss to the Cornell community and to the lacrosse world.”
Moran never missed an opportunity to connect with those around him – especially Cornell athletes. He regularly attended games on campus, occupying the same seat at men’s and women’s basketball games in the upper section behind the Big Red’s bench. Cornell coaches across the department would invite him to speak to their players about teamwork and perseverance. And, he often took members of the Athletic Department’s staff to lunch as a way of spreading goodwill.
“People just gravitated to Richie,” said Andy Phillips ’84, president of the Cornell Lacrosse Association and a former Big Red midfielder. “In the larger lacrosse community, people often remark about the outstanding culture of the Cornell program. And the reason for that is Coach Moran. Plain and simple – Richie was the difference-maker.”
In January, nearly 300 members of the Big Red lacrosse family attended a virtual 85th birthday celebration for Moran. And when word of his deteriorating health spread, a steady stream of former players made their way to Ithaca.
The pilgrimages culminated on April 16, when Moran attended the Cornell-Army lacrosse game at Schoellkopf Field and watched his grandson, junior midfielder and Ithaca High graduate Ryan Sposito, notch a hat trick for the visiting Black Knights.
Despite a rainy pregame tailgate, Moran and his wife of 61 years, Pat, were driven through the Schoellkopf Crescent parking lot. A parade of former Cornell players, as well as numerous friends of the program, went up to the window of his car to say hello, pay their respects and convey their love.
In 29 seasons at Cornell, Moran compiled a 257-121 overall record, 124-50, in Ivy League play with 15 league championships, and won NCAA Division I titles in 1971, ’76 and ’77.
A Long Island native, Moran attended SUNY Cortland for one year before transferring to the University of Maryland, graduating in 1960. He was a member of the Terrapins’ 1959 national championship team.
Julie Greco, a communication specialist in the ILR School, previously worked for 14 years in the Office of Athletic Communications.