C'Bar Old Boys' Association unveils tribute sign at McKenley's grave

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS Assistant Sport Editor

Thursday, July 12, 2012

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AS he did in his long and colourful life, Herb McKenley still manages to draw praise and admiration even at his final resting place at the National Heroes Park located in the Jamaican capital.

At an unveiling of a tribute sign erected to stand watch over the legendary Olympian and "father" of Jamaica's track and field, former Prime Minister of Jamaica PJ Patterson led the tear-jerking tributes on Tuesday.

The sign, that bears a summary of the track and field great's life and achievements, was planted at the headstone of McKenley to also commemorate his 90th birthday.

A large cake, which featured a photo of the former Calabar High student, was cut and shared among the guests of the Calabar High School Old Boys' Association, which staged the evening's event.

Patterson, a Calabar old boy himself, branded 'Herb' as a "great motivator".

"He was a motivator par excellence... and when the boys were not responding, he'll shed a tear and say you 'can't let Herb down'," said the former prime minister.

Apart from distinguishing himself on the track, McKenley excelled also as an administrator of track and field, but most importantly, exemplified the utmost qualities of a human being.

"We want to thank the Almighty for giving us Herb (as) he was the most selfless human being, and in all that he did, he symbolised dedication, hard work, energy and pursuit," said Patterson, Jamaica's longest serving chief executive officer from 1992 to 2006.

McKenley, who stood out at Jamaica's first Olympic appearance in London in 1948, also made an indelible mark on athletics coaching, not only at his alma mater and Jamaica, but the world.

"His mastery of athletic development will make him immortal... no Calabar student, past or present, has done more for Calabar as Herb's achievements and legacy in track and field are legendary," said Patterson, the Calabar alumna. "He excelled at every level," he concluded.

Also paying homage to McKenley, who passed on the baton of life in 2007, was another Calabar old boy and current president of the Jamaica Olympic Association, Mike Fennell.

Fennell, who represented his school and Jamaica at water polo and swimming, said his dear departed friend's contribution cannot be accurately quantified for its range and vastness.

"He has made such a contribution to the sport landscape in Jamaica and the world... his reputation in Europe and particularly Finland is larger than life," said Fennell.

The Commonwealth Games Federation ex-boss, while saluting the Calabar old boys for their vision and purpose in commemorating the life and achievements of one of their own, urged the gathering that as a people we ought to do a better job in celebrating those who have contributed to the country in the way McKenley had.

"This occasion reminds us of the good things we have going for us as a people... let's spread the word of Herb, who has done so much for us," ended Fennell, who was a headboy at the Red Hills Road-based institution.

Minister with responsibility for sport, Natalie Neita-Headley, described McKenley as "a true patriot".

"We are privileged to have had our lives touched by this great Jamaican," she said.

The minister announced that her government is ready to partner with the Calabar old boys movement to erect a tombstone to honour McKenley.

In London 1948, McKenley won silver in the 400 metres, beaten into second by countryman Arthur Wint, another Calabar man.

Four years later in Helsinki, Finland, McKenley was second in the 100m and 400m, beaten in the latter by another compatriot George Rhoden. But it was his mercurial leg in the 4X400 race that catapulted McKenley into track and field lore. In helping Jamaica win the gold, the Lanky 'Herb' clocked 44.6 seconds, which remained the fastest one-lap run by a human being for almost two decades.

He is the only person to have made the final in all three sprinting events — the 100 metres, 200 metres and 400 metres — in the same Olympics.

Included in his catalogue of functions, McKenley also coached Jamaica's national team and was president of the now Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association. He served Jamaica's track and field for 50 unbroken years.

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