By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – About two months ago, we had just finished airing an episode of the Hawk Fanatic radio show and podcast at the KCJJ radio station when I noticed a man sitting on the couch in the front room.
It took me a few seconds to realize that it was Randy Larson, somebody I’ve known for over 30 years.
Randy had come to the radio station to cut what would prove to be his final commerical promoting his immensely popular restaurant, Monica’s, in Coralville.
He had lost a considerable amount of weight and his voice was ravaged by a previous battle with throat cancer, and by the effects from having had at least two strokes, including one not so long ago.
And even though he could barely speak on that day, that didn’t stop Randy from trying to speak.
We had a brief conversation, and like almost always with Randy, the conversation eventually shifted to Iowa Hawkeye basketball.
He told me that he was there to update his commercial for his beloved restaurant, and I remember leaving the station very depressed, but was also in awe of Randy’s determination, boundless energy and courage.
Here was a guy in his late 60s fighting for his life, and yet in Randy’s mind, life still must go on.
Randy never was one to take it easy, and he tried to stay active and busy for as long as humanly possible.
Sadly, Randy’s body finally succumbed to all his physical ailments on Saturday night. He was just 67 years old.
The guy who seemed to do more in one day than some do in a week, and who had more energy it seemed than just about anybody else, is now silent and still, and that’s hard to accept because Randy never was silent and still.
Randy’s death comes barely two weeks after veteran Quad City Times reporter Steve Batterson passed away at the age of 61 from what was described as a sudden illness.
These were two men that left an indelible mark, but in different ways.
Batterson reported on the Hawkeyes for over three decades, while Randy Larson loved the Iowa Hawkeyes, even though he grew up in Ames and graduated from Iowa State where he played as a walk-on for the Iowa State men’s basketball team.
Randy came to Iowa City in 1979 to attend law school at the University of Iowa, and then he never left.
He started practicing law in 1982 and specialized in personal injury for plaintiffs, and criminal defense.
He defended numerous University of Iowa student-athletes over the years, and he also represented the family of former Iowa basketball player Chris Street in its suit against Johnson County and the driver of a snowplow that had collided with Street’s car, killing the emerging star on Jan. 19, 1993, and midway through his junior season.
Just being an attorney would be enough to keep most people occupied and busy, but Randy wasn’t like most people.
He also became involved in the restaurant business in 1992 as the co-owner of the Airliner in Iowa City and that would be the start of a 30-year run as a restaurant owner.
Randy also loved playing golf, and he developed into a very good player as an amateur.
Some people might take a three or four-hour gap in their busy schedule to rest or run errands, or maybe watch some television, whereas Randy would often fill that time by playing 18 holes of golf.
But from what I knew about Randy Larson, the one thing he loved more than anything, besides maybe his restaurant, was the game of basketball.
He loved everything about the game, from playing it to watching it to coaching it.
He loved the teamwork and discipline that it took to play basketball, and the strategies that were part of winning.
In the summer of 1987, Randy and former Iowa men’s basketball coach Tom Davis came up with the idea of having a summer league that would give the Iowa players a more structured and competitive environment in which to compete against current, former, and future college players.
The league, which was called the Prime Time League, would go on to last for 32 years, ending in 2018.
Randy also established a summer league for the Iowa women’s basketball players called the Game Time League.
He served as commissioner of both leagues, and he also played and coached in the PTL.
“Randy was a great friend of our program, and to me from the day I arrived in Iowa City,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said in a statement. “He was incredibly kind and supportive of our student-athletes, including devoting his heart and soul into the Prime Time League for three decades.
“Randy was an Iowa City legend and will be dearly missed.”
Fran McCaffery isn’t exaggerating when he says that Randy devoted his heart and soul to the Prime Time League because that is exactly what Randy did for both leagues, along with countless hours to both leagues.
Randy loved both men’s and women’s basketball and treated them both with equal respect.
“Randy was a tremendous supporter of women’s basketball,” Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder said in a statement. “He included us in the summer league as soon as we arrived on campus.
“Randy was a fixture at our games and loved supporting our team.”
Randy became close friends with hundreds of Iowa men’s and women’s basketball players. They admired his work ethic and appreciated what he did for them.
“He helped a lot of our careers,” former Iowa player Jess Settles said in a text message. “We will miss him.”
Incredibly, even with his plate full, Randy still found the time and energy to coach high school basketball.
And there were times when Randy seemed most happy doing that, teaching high school kids how to play the game that he adored.
He was the head boys basketball coach for Iowa City Regina for seven seasons, compiling a 95-69 record. His last team at Regina finished 19-4 and advanced to a district final in 2014.
This statement from long-time Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Mike Hlas describes Randy perfectly.
My first encounter with Randy Larson happened way back in 1991 shortly after I had moved to Iowa City to work for the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
I still played pickup basketball at that time and had heard all about the noon league and was eager to see what it was all about.
So, I went to the UI Field House and played in a couple games, but my team lost both games, and I quickly discovered that once you had lost your spot on the court, it was hard to get it back.
What I mostly remember about that day is that Randy’s team never lost and controlled the court.
He brought the ball up the court for his team and talked pretty much throughout the game, telling his teammates what to do and providing words of encouragement.
I would soon learn that his name was Randy Larson and that he was considered as the unofficial commissioner of the noon league.
Randy was a pretty good player in his day. He could shoot and dribble and he served as sort of a player/coach in the noon league.
He rubbed some people the wrong way, but that was mostly because his teams were usually the best, and he also talked non-stop during games, and sometimes he would even shout.
Randy’s teams also won a lot in the noon league, and while he often had some of the best players on his team, he also had a knack for getting them to play together, and to play unselfishly, and that isn’t easy to do in pick-up games where egos have to be fed.
Randy and I would go on to become friends, not close friends, but we shared a mutual respect.
There were times when I felt lazy around Randy because my schedule looked almost empty compared to his schedule.
Randy was like the energizer bunny in that he never stopped working and doing the things that he loved.
And that’s why Randy was at the radio station that day.
It didn’t matter that he was suffering from serious health problems because he had a job to do and he was determined to do it.
He was there to promote his restaurant and to thank his many customers for their support, and he wanted to do it himself.
I had an eerie feeling that it would be the last time I saw Randy alive, and sadly, that proved to be true.
Randy Larson squeezed a lot of into his 67 years, and he made a huge impact in a city that he grew to love.
He will be missed.