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Meredyth streets dedicated to Nancy Lopez, Ray Knight

Honorees Ray Knight, 1986 World Series MVP, left, and LPGA Hall of Fame Golfer Nancy Lopez, center, talk with W.T. Henry during the Nancy Lopez Lane and Ray Knight Way street sign dedication ceremony at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s Meredyth Drive campus Thursday.

Honorees Ray Knight, 1986 World Series MVP, left, and LPGA Hall of Fame Golfer Nancy Lopez, center, talk with W.T. Henry during the Nancy Lopez Lane and Ray Knight Way street sign dedication ceremony at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s Meredyth Drive campus Thursday.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Ladies Professional Golf Association Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez and Major League Baseball All-Star Ray Knight were honored Thursday for their commitment to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital through the dedication of two new roads on the hospital's Meredyth Place campus that have been named after both sports personalities.

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Joe Bellacomo

The dedication took place at the intersection of Nancy Lopez Lane and Ray Knight Way off Meredyth Drive. The two streets were constructed along with the Phoebe Digestive Health Center, located at Two Meredyth Place, that opened in October.

"When we decided to put in the thoroughfares, we discussed what we were going to call them," said Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick. "We scratched our heads and thought of only one option -- that they be named after someone special."

photo

Joe Bellacomo

The Evergreen Family Band performs during the 27th annual Nancy Lopez Hospice Golf Classic Pre-Tournament Bash at Doublegate Country Club Thursday night. The 60s-and-70s-themed Bash was a precursor to today’s golf tournament at Doublegate.

Considering her connections to Albany, which included raising a family here with Knight -- with whom she was married to for 28 years -- Lopez found it hard to hold back tears when trying to describe what the accolade meant to her.

"To be honored is very special," she said following Thursday's ceremony. "Phoebe Putney has been a part of my life for more than 20 years.

"It is very nice. When you stop playing golf, you don't think about awards because you are not winning them anymore."

Even though Knight still lives in the area and Lopez has now moved on to Auburn, Ala. to be near her youngest daughter, the former baseball player felt inclined to give his ex-wife most of the credit for their combined contributions to the region's health care industry.

"I have never met anybody more special than her," he said. "When Phoebe came to Nancy about (raising money) for hospice, they bypassed me and she became the face of the (Lopez Hospice Golf Classic) -- and she became the right choice.

"The only thing wrong (with the street sign at the Nancy Lopez Lane and Ray Knight Way intersection) is that I am on the top. She should be on the top."

Since 1986, the Lopez Hospice Golf Classic has generated funding for Albany Community Hospice, now based at Willson Hospice House. The 27th annual event is taking place at Doublegate Country Club today.

“Like a lot of facilities, we wondered if (the Willson Hospice House) would turn out the way it was designed,” said Wernick. “You can see the function (at Willson) is very much alive and does what it is intended to do.

“Some gave a lot, some give a little (to the facility). It has been a true community effort.”

Attendees at Thursday’s event included leaders from Phoebe as well as community officials such as Dougherty County Commission Chair Jeff “Bodine” Sinyard.

Sinyard, being related to Knight by marriage, was able to relate some memories of the former power couple as well as the humility and ambition they possess.

“To have these two folks to inspire young folks everyday ... is the obvious reason these two crossroads are being named for these two people,” he said. “Any (trait) you want to raise children with, these two have it automatically.”

Lopez was the first female superstar golfer, and with her first LPGA tour, she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and won LPGA Rookie of the Year, Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year and Player of the Year. She is recognized as one of the greats in the history of women’s golf and is the first female recipient of the Frances Ouimet Award for her contributions to the game.

Knight, an Albany native, is a two-time Major League Baseball All-Star who made the Top 10 leaderboard in batting three times. An infielder for the Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, Knight led the Mets to a World Championship in 1986 and scored the winning run in the sixth game of the World Series, earning the Most Valuable Player title for the series.

Knight belted 84 home runs and 595 RBIs during his career, and eventually retired from baseball in 1989 to join ESPN. In 1993, he returned to the Major Leagues to coach the Reds and was manager of the team until 1997. He later returned to broadcasting and is now a sports analyst for the game.

Recently, through the American Heart Association, Knight was involved in the establishment of a teaching garden at Lincoln Elementary Magnet School via a grant partnership between AHA and Phoebe Community Visions.

Two plaques, one for Knight and another for Lopez, are being placed outside the digestive disease center — with Knight’s at the intersection of the streets named for them and Lopez’s near the intersection of Nancy Lopez Lane and Meredyth Drive — in the next few weeks.