LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - He was the face and the voice of the Kentucky Derby. The beloved John Asher who passed away from a heart attack in August at age 62. Countless tributes have been made for John, but one in particular will honor his legacy for decades to come.
Those who knew and loved the man who truly knew and loved the Kentucky Derby are certain, his spirit is among us.
"I still talk to him," revealed George Lindsey, Asher's childhood friend.
As loved ones and colleagues miss Asher's iconic voice, impeccable horse racing knowledge and welcoming ways for Kentucky Derby 145, his friend is confident that Asher is here and he's thrilled his buddy's legacy will live on.
"I think that's such a great statement about who he was and what he was," Lindsey said while is talking about a statement being made 120 miles south of Louisville. "Going to college was not a guarantee, as a matter of fact it was a luxury."
In 1977, John's love began to run deep for Western Kentucky University.
"It changed your life," Lindsey explained. "John Asher grew up on a dirt road, outside of Clarkson, Kentucky in a farmhouse that was sitting on not concrete blocks but rocks."
What many people don't know is that John was painfully shy until teachers and classmates started touting his journalism skills and one other thing.
"He had a wonderful voice," said Paul Just, a friend and semi-retired WKU Sports Information Director. "John had a voice built for a mic."
In addition to the voice, Just said Asher had the perfect words to go with it. “Universities have a way of bringing out people,” Just said.
"It gave him that confidence to take that next step to apply in Louisville and get a job at WAVE Radio, and then WHAS, and then that led to Churchill Downs," said Lindsey of Asher's talents.
Confidence that made Asher the man everyone wanted to be around.
"Horse owners, millionaires, billionaires," Lindsey said, "one of the first people that the Derby trainers and owners would ask for after winning the Derby was 'Where's John?'"
Friends say it was sort of a tradition of Asher’s to walk up the steps to the Henry Hardin Cherry Statue on top of the hill at WKU, turn around and look over the city down below thinking about what his future life would be, and then he would recite the Western motto: The Spirit makes the Master." It’s meaning: That nothing is written, until you decide what you want your future to be and that’s what we thought it meant, that we could be anything.
Asher's determination made him a newsman and corporate leader, but at heart he was a romantic who loved Kentucky and nothing was more Kentucky than the Derby.
"It's beautiful, it's gorgeous, it's luxurious, the sun is shining and it's 75 degrees," Lindsey said, "and it's everything that's right about Kentucky and I think that's what captured John."
Asher credited WKU for that passion and always paid it forward. Western Athletic Director Todd Stewart said of Asher, "He definitely had WKU in his DNA."
Asher made frequent trips to Western to mentor students, host events and was a loyal sports fan. Just like Churchill, his promotion of WKU was 24/7. He never stopped "Spreading the Red."
"I don't think you could put a price tag on the value of what John Asher did for our programs," Stewart said.
That's why his sudden passing was so difficult for so many at Western, Churchill and beyond. Thousands paid their respects.
"I honestly had no idea that this city would just envelop him the way they did," said Dee Asher, John's wife, of the support, "it's just been amazing."
Because Western's love for John Asher and his family also runs deep, and because he embodied 'The Spirit Makes the Master' motto, his impact will continue.
"There aren't many things in the world that are going to last forever but this scholarship endowment will," said Donald Smith, president of the WKU College Heights Foundation. "10 years from now, 50 years from now, 500 years from now we will still be awarding scholarships in John's name."
Among the initial gifts: Churchill Downs, Brown-Forman, and Woodford Reserve made the John Asher Memorial Scholarship Fund the beneficiary of the 2019 $1,000 and $2,500 Mint Julep cups with his family there to see it.
"I don't think any of us would have ever imagined the impact he truly made," said Heather Singleton, Asher's daughter, "but that was made very clear here and myself and my entire family are extremely humbled."
"I just think it's really cool that his spirit is going to be at Western, it's going to be in Louisville and it's all over Churchill Downs and the Derby," Lindsey said of the honor for his dear friend.
Recipients of the scholarship fund will learn about John Asher’s work for Western Kentucky and Churchill Downs and John’s family will be invited to meet the awarded students each year.