NICHOLASVILLE — Railroad owner R.J. "Rick" Corman was remembered for his tenacity, courage and charity Monday before he was laid to rest in front of the glass-and-steel headquarters and aircraft hangar of his corporation.
"He was not shrouded in mediocrity," said the Rev. Wayne Smith, retired pastor of Southland Christian Church in Jessamine County. "... He made this world a better place by reaching out to others and giving from the heart."
Corman died Friday after a 12-year battle with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that attacks the plasma cells in bone marrow and destroys bones. He was 58.
His funeral was held in the hangar where Corman housed his corporate jets and other aircraft. An exact figure for attendance was not available, but Hager & Cundiff Funeral Home estimated the crowd at more than 1,000.
Dr. Paul Richardson, clinical director of the Jerome Lipper Center for Multiple Myeloma at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, recalled his first meeting with Corman in 2001.
Corman had just been to the Mayo Clinic, which gave him six months to live.
"Can you guys do better than that?" Corman asked Richardson.
Richardson laid out a strategy and a "battle plan" to try, and Corman literally ran with it. Within weeks of his first stem-cell transplant, Corman ran and completed a marathon. Richardson said he completed only half of the same marathon.
"That is classic of Rick," Richardson said. "He defied every odd."
Richardson spoke of donations Corman made to assist in the research of myeloma, which helped to develop more effective treatments for others. Richardson said Corman felt "the most important thing is to leave the world better than you found it.
"My friend, you did — and more."
The Corman companies employ more than 1,150 people in 22 states. One of Corman's sons, Jay Corman, spoke briefly and thanked employees "for your hard work and your dedication."
That work and dedication allowed his father "to keep his focus on living," Jay Corman said.
The younger Corman said he and his dad "got into it many times over little things and big things."
Those conflicts typically defused when the elder Corman told his son, "I taught you all you know, not all I know."
Others spoke of Corman's sense of humor, too. Matt Rose, chairman and CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, said that Corman insisted that their party of four take the subway to and from dinner in Manhattan. On the return trip, another passenger on the subway decided to take off all his clothes.
Corman took the unexpected strip show in stride and asked the others, "Have you ever had so much fun in your life?"
The Rev. Jon Weece, senior pastor of Southland Christian Church, recalled that Corman, ever the straight-shooter, once told him: "You're not a normal preacher."
"Why's that?" Weece asked.
"You've never asked me for money," Corman said.
Nevertheless, Corman paid to fly Weece and others to the Joplin, Mo., funeral of Weece's father in 2007. Untold numbers of people were assisted by Corman with funeral expenses, operations or other unanticipated expenses.
Before Monday's service began at 4 p.m., mourners and well-wishers watched flat-screen monitors display photographs of Corman with politicians, relatives, employees and celebrities, including actor Harrison Ford and country singer Eddie Montgomery.
Pre-service music included songs about trains, the bread and butter of R.J. Corman Railroad Group. The song selection included Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Mystery Train by Elvis Presley.
But the song that started the funeral service was My Way, Frank Sinatra's ode to independence and self-determination. Richardson said he "should have known" that the strong-willed Corman would want that played at his funeral.