Gene McKenna Glass, former deputy chief of the Lexington fire department and a past secretary of the Kentucky Racing Commission, died at his home Tuesday. He was 81.
John Ginn, a retired fire department captain who worked with Mr. Glass during most of his career, said he was "a great friend" who enjoyed dressing up as Santa Claus and visiting sick and disabled children each Christmas.
"We went to each individual home" in a firetruck decked out with reindeer, Ginn said. "It was a rewarding experience, and Gene did a wonderful job."
One year, Mr. Glass, who joined the fire department in 1951, was lowered from the ceiling at Rupp Arena while wearing his Santa garb.
"He said it scared him to death," Mr. Glass's wife, Billie Jean, recalled with a laugh.
Mr. Glass was involved with a number of civic and volunteer organizations, including the Lexington Lions Club, Toys for Tots, March of Dimes and Easter Seals.
After his first open-heart surgery in 1979, Mr. Glass founded Fayette County's Mended Hearts Program, which provides support to cardiac disease patients and their families.
"He was always doing so many things for the community," Billie Jean Glass said.
A big racing fan, Mr. Glass served as secretary of the Kentucky Racing Commission for four years under Gov. Wallace Wilkinson and one year under Gov. Brereton Jones.
"It was like a dream fulfilled when Governor Wilkinson appointed him," Billie Jean Glass said.
For years, she said, her husband held a second job at the wagering windows at Churchill Downs, where he worked 25 straight Kentucky Derbys.
Mr. Glass will be buried in the Lexington Cemetery after a private service. Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Main Street is in charge of arrangements.
Contributions may be made to the Makenna Foundation, which does fund-raising for the Kentucky Children's Hospital.