Saddened by the loss of our beloved Ray and Coco Lajoie
Our Seven Hills Foundation family is deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Ray and Coco Lajoie. They will be remembered as proud, dedicated parents, who when faced with the challenges of raising a daughter with a disability, led our community by instilling dignity and hope to families throughout central Massachusetts. Their tireless work for 42 years through the Lori Lajoie Charity Golf Tournament along with the membership of the Worcester Country Club brought a community together, educated countless people on the value and worth of individuals with disabilities, and spearheaded a campaign to raise over $6 million dollars that has improved thousands of lives. They led by example, through their obvious love for each other and for their family. Love is a wonderful legacy to leave.
Telegram & Gazette
Posted Feb 6, 2018
Ray and Coco Lajoie, always together in life, pass on together
It was never Ray Lajoie or Coco Lajoie. It was always Ray and Coco Lajoie. They seemed to be together all the time.
So while John Lajoie and his family grieve over the deaths of his mother, Coco, at age 80 on Sunday, and his father, Ray, at age 83 on Monday, they can take solace in the fact that at least they passed together.
“They were always together,” John Lajoie said. “They knew each other for 63 years. They were married for 60 years. They worked together, they traveled together, they did everything together. Now I guess it’s only fitting that they died together.”
Since 1976, Worcester Country Club has hosted the Lori Lajoie Charity Golf Tournament in August in memory of Ray and Coco’s daughter. The tournament began at the urging of the Worcester CC member Leo Malboeuf, who wanted to help people like Lori.
She had the intelligence of a young child, spoke only a few words and couldn’t walk until she was 7. She died at age 37 of ovarian cancer in 2001. The tournament has raised about $6 million for Seven Hills Foundation, Greater Worcester’s largest provider of programs for the developmentally and physically challenged.
Ray worked at Worcester CC for 47 years, the last 27 as head pro before retiring in 1996. Coco worked at Ray’s side in the pro shop. They ran their daughter’s golf tournament until his retirement and then the club took over, but the Lajoies continued to serve on the tournament committee and sold raffle tickets on the first tee until giving up that responsibility last year. They still attended last year’s event, however.
“Everybody got a chance to give both of them a hug,” Worcester CC president Tim McDonnell said.
Ray and Coco, who celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in July, experienced their own health challenges in recent years, but John said the tournament gave his parents a reason to carry on.
“It meant so much to my mum and dad,” Lajoie said. “I can’t even begin to find the words of the meaning and the spirit of that tournament and what it meant to them. My dad, that’s all he could think of all the time.”
A relative found Ray and Coco unresponsive Saturday at their home in Northbridge after they hadn’t answered their telephone. Ray was lying on the kitchen floor and Coco was on the couch in severe respiratory distress. After a recent bout with pneumonia, Coco had been taking oxygen, but John said when she was found her oxygen tube was crimped, cutting off her supply. Ray had apparently fallen, hit his head on the kitchen table and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. John believes Coco’s oxygen tube became crimped while she tried to help Ray.
They were transported to Milford Regional Medical Center, then transferred to UMass Memorial Medical Center University Campus where they were placed in the same room. The hospital put their beds together and Ray and Coco held hands even though they weren’t responsive. On Sunday, Ray woke up and began speaking, even calling John’s daughter Jackie by her nickname of “Strapper.”
Coco developed sepsis and died just before 6 p.m. Sunday. Ray didn’t know that Coco passed, but on Monday his condition worsened and he died at 8:30 p.m.
“People are going to think it was a heartache death,” John said of his father, “but it’s not.”
In 2006, Ray was inducted into the New England PGA Hall of Fame. In 2015, he received the Deacon Palmer Award, which the PGA of America established in the name of Arnold Palmer’s late father to honor a PGA pro who displays outstanding integrity, character and leadership while overcoming a major obstacle in his or her life. He touched the lives of many.
Pleasant Valley CC head pro Paul Parajeckas has played in every Lori Lajoie Tournament. He grew up near Worcester CC and said Ray was one of the reasons he became a golf pro.
“It’s just a sad day,” Parajeckas said. “I know they’re in a better place. I’m in shock. He was great to a lot of pros. He was a leader. He taught the golf professional the right way, the old-fashioned way. That’s what I learned from him.”
McDonnell didn’t know anyone at the club when he joined more than 30 years ago and he’ll never forget Ray welcoming him and making sure he had someone to play with.
New England PGA executive director Mike Higgins is a Worcester CC member and has played in the Lajoie tournament. As a youth, he caddied at the club under Ray.
“Any time you have a sudden passing it’s shocking and sad,” Higgins said, “but to have Ray and Coco who were such a team for such a long time, both as partners in life and partners at work and in the community, it’s even sadder. I feel awful for the Lajoie family.”
McDonnell said many of the newer members at WCC didn’t know the Lajoies, but they were well acquainted with their legacy and he expects the tournament to continue for many years.
“The members have embraced it,” McDonnell said. “It’s part of Worcester County Club history. We have a lot of history and that’s part of it. It started out as our giving back to an organization that was benefiting our head professional’s daughter and it just blossomed into giving back to the community and it’s our primary charity.”
Of course, the tournament will have to go on without Ray and Coco. John plans to play as usual, and his wife, Susan, will sell raffle tickets.
“There will be a huge void,” John said. “It’s going to be hard for the family, especially me.”
“I can’t imagine how many pros will come back for this year’s tournament now,” McDonnell said. “I don’t know if we’ll have enough space. We may have to make it a two-day tournament. The response could and should be overwhelming.”
“Hopefully folks turn out in record numbers,” Higgins said, “and even more money is raised this year, because that’s what Ray and Coco certainly would want.”
Ray and Coco leave two children, John and his sister, Lynn Ellsworth of Oxford, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Lisa Marek, died in 2008.
The family plans to publish their obituary together, have a wake for them together and bury them together. Coco wanted to be cremated, so her urn of ashes will be placed in Ray’s arms in his casket.
To give golf pros time to travel from across the country, the wake won’t be held at Athy Memorial Home in Worcester until Friday, Feb. 16. The funeral will be Feb. 17 at Immaculate Conception Parish in Worcester. Former PGA of America President Jim Remy, one of several of Lajoie’s assistants at Worcester CC who went on to become head pros, will give the eulogy.