Kentucky great Cotton Nash and sons bound by love of family, sports

UK legend's sons are lawyer, actor

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJanuary 2, 2011 

The successes they've had in their lives — in sports, law and the arts — have made their names and faces well known to many.

Charles "Cotton" Nash, Patrick Nash and J. Richey Nash.

What might not be well known to many people is that they are family.

Cotton Nash, one of the greatest University of Kentucky basketball players of all time and who went on to play professional basketball and baseball, is the father of Patrick Nash and J. Richey Nash. Patrick Nash has made a name for himself throughout Central and Eastern Kentucky as a defense attorney in high-profile criminal cases. J. Richey Nash is a former professional baseball player, and now an actor and filmmaker.

Family, not fame, seems to dominate their lives.

It is evident by the very large family portrait and smaller photographs of various Nashes that are displayed among the books about UK sports and sports trophies in the expansive family room of Cotton's Lexington home.

It was evident in the conversation among the three Nash men while they were gathered one fall day at that home, the place where Cotton Nash's three children grew up. Although they chit-chatted about sports-related news of the day — playing, coaching or watching various kinds of sports has always been a major part of their lives — what seemed to be foremost on their minds was Cotton Nash's youngest child, Audrey Lowrey, 38, who was about to give birth to her first child, his seventh grandchild, in Denver.

"Just think, he's going to have one more to worry about," Richey said, referring to his father's already-loaded schedule for attending grandchildren's sports events.

Each year, Cotton, 68, attends about 90 sports matches in which his other grandchildren, all six of them Pat's children, participate.

"He's probably missed that many again," Pat said.

"I try to make them all. I can't make them all," Cotton said.

Pat's triplet sons, Casey, Alex and Nick, who are 16, play baseball and football for Lexington Catholic High School. Alex also plays on the Lexington Catholic hockey team. Daughter Catey, 10, has played on youth softball and basketball teams; son Jack, 7, plays baseball, football and basketball; and daughter Lucy, 6, recently began playing soccer and basketball for the first time.

"I've coached them all in all different sports," Pat said. "Sometimes I'm the head coach. Sometimes I'm the assistant coach. Just whatever it takes. ... I've coached hockey, football, baseball and basketball and softball."

Pat played football for Lexington's Henry Clay High School, but wasn't very good at it, he said. He also played junior varsity basketball at Cornell University, where he received a bachelor's degree in biology, with a concentration in natural resources.

High-profile cases

These days, most of the 44-year-old's defense work is done in a courtroom.

His clients have included former Blue Grass Airport executive director Michael Gobb, who was prosecuted on charges related to expenditures made on airport credit cards; Tina Conner, who had a two-year affair with former Kentucky governor Paul Patton; Daniel T. Schwarberg, known as the "Average Joe" bandit, who said he robbed banks to pay his bills; and Maria Whitt, a former nurse at Lexington's Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who is accused of killing an elderly patient with an overdose of morphine.

Pat hasn't sought out high-profile clients and cases, he said. But one such case gotten by chance apparently has led to another and another.

Although he's handled all kinds of legal matters, he finds being a criminal lawyer especially rewarding.

"It is a lot easier in some ways to represent people charged with crimes than it is in civil cases. I find that people charged with a crime are very appreciative for the most part," he said. "They're very humbled, usually, by the situation they're in."

Pat's first job after graduating from the UK College of Law was as a staff attorney for U.S. District Judge Henry Wilhoit. Pat opened his own practice two years later.

His wife, Christy, a religion teacher at Lexington Catholic High School, also holds a law degree, but does not practice law or assist him in his practice.

"She has enough to do," he said.

Baseball, then acting

This past summer, the Nashes who live in Lexington were able to take some time from their busy schedules to spend it with Richey, 42, who lives in California and usually gets back to Lexington only a couple of times a year.

The visit was different and a lot longer than others because Richey was in town to film a movie.

The movie, called Hitting the Cycle, has something to do with sports, of course. And making it has been a Nash family affair.

The movie, expected to be finished in 2011, is about a man trying to figure out what to do in life after playing professional baseball. Richey is the writer, director and star of the film. Much of the filming took place at Lexington's Applebee's Park.

Catey Nash has a speaking role. Jack Nash has a cameo appearance, and Lucy Nash is an extra.

"We cast the whole thing right in the family here," Richey said.

Pat and Christy rounded up other children, teenagers and parents for scenes that were filmed in Lexington's Veterans Park.

Cotton and his wife, Julie, who are investors in the movie, opened their home to cast and crew members from out of town, helped spot filming locations and lined up props.

"Right near the end of my baseball career I moved out to San Francisco," Richey said. "I thought I was done playing baseball."

A friend suggested he take an acting class, and he did.

"I sort of fell into it. I never really had a plan to be an actor," he said. Richey has appeared on TV shows, including Criminal Minds and George Lopez, has acted on stage and has been involved in other film projects.

Richey lettered in baseball and basketball at Henry Clay and at Princeton University, where he received a degree in psychology. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres and played in the minor leagues for several seasons. Later, he was a player and coach in Italy.

"To each his own. Let them choose their own path," Cotton said of his children and their career choices.

Remembered by fans

Cotton Nash's own career might have been more like that of his daughter, who is a nurse. Cotton, a three-time basketball All-American and a baseball player at UK in the early 1960s, was accepted into UK's dental school. But basketball and his first love, baseball, got in the way.

"I had two professional sports contracts lying on the table in front of me," he said. Cotton said he tried to figure out a way to play professional basketball and baseball and study dentistry, all at the same time, but decided he could handle only two of the three. Dental school lost out. Among the professional basketball teams on which he played were the Los Angeles Lakers in the National Basketball Association and the Kentucky Colonels in the old American Basketball Association. As for professional baseball, he played primarily with the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins organizations.

His fans haven't forgotten him. He gets a half-dozen or so fan letters a month, he said. Some of his fans have sent him copies of the Dec. 10, 1962, issue of Sports Illustrated magazine depicting him on the cover; they've also sent basketballs, baseballs and planks from the old UK Memorial Coliseum floor on which he played to autograph.

After his professional basketball and baseball careers ended, Cotton turned to investment and real estate businesses.

He and his wife, who won trophies in horse shows in her youth, also have been involved in the Standardbred business.

Cotton and Julie, along with Steve Stewart and Nash's sister, Francene Nash, bred Rock N Roll Heaven, a 3-year-old pacing colt who won the 2010 pacing classic, the Little Brown Jug, with a world-record performance.

Although Cotton's basketball jersey, No. 44, hangs from the rafters at Lexington's Rupp Arena, UK sports have taken a back seat to other things. He usually gives the ticket he gets to each UK men's basketball game as a former UK letterman to one of his grandchildren, he said.

He's already thinking about what sports might be of interest to his youngest grandchild, Vivian Lowrey, Audrey and Jason Lowrey's new daughter.

"Her mother was a track athlete," Cotton said. "We're thinking that might be one of her desires."

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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