Olympian Les Laing remembered as having deep sense of family
LAING...died in Florida at age 97(Photo: Observer file)

For Jamaicans old enough to remember, Les Laing was one of four men who brought a sense of national pride to the country in the summer of 1952.

He was a member of the Helsinki Four — which also included Arthur Wint, Herb McKenley and George Rhoden — who won the 4x400 metres relay at the Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland.

Laing, who ran the second leg of that historic event, died on January 7 in Clermont, Florida at age 97.

While his name as a trailblazer is assured in sports, his daughter Lesley Saunders said Laing was an outstanding parent and devoted husband to Carmen, his wife of 67 years.

“He had a huge sense of family; that was very important. He was very ambitious and he instilled that in all of us,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

Saunders is the oldest of Les and Carmen Laing's three children. They also had sons, Dwight and Derek.

Carmen was a high jumper who, like her husband, competed at the London Olympics in 1948 where he finished fifth in the 200 metres.

Derek was a long jumper and sprinter who participated in the Jamaica trials for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

The Laings retired to Clermont in central Florida 15 years ago after living in Puerto Rico for a similar period. An agriculturalist, Les worked in the American department as sales manager for the Caribbean with the Central Soya company.

The eldest of six children, Les Laing was born in Linstead. His father, Charles, was a cobbler; his mother, Adlin, a homemaker.

Unlike most of his contemporaries who attended college in the United States, Laing enrolled in the Jamaica School of Agriculture after leaving Dinthill High School.

After Helsinki, where he also competed in the 200 metres and finished sixth, Laing retired from athletics and went into business. He never turned his back on the sport, attending the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada.

Saunders said her parents followed the remarkable feats of the new generation of Jamaican athletes.

“They subscribed to every channel with athletics. That's all we knew about,” she said.

The couple last visited Jamaica in 2007 for McKenley's funeral. Wint died in 1992, while Rhoden, now 96, lives in the US.

Leslie Laing is survived by Carmen, his three children, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The thanksgiving service for his life is scheduled for February 20 at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Clermont.

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer writer

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