Welsh Athletics is sad to report the death of Tony Pumfrey yesterday at the age of 85. He had been ill for the past couple of years with cancer.
His great claim to fame was running in one of the most famous mile races of all time in Dublin in 1958. Herb Elliott, fresh from his 880 yards and mile double in the 1958 Cardiff Empire (now Commonwealth) Games shattered the world mile record, lowering Derek Ibbotson’s best by a staggering 2.7 secs with 3:54.5. Fellow Australian Merv Lincoln was also inside the old record with 3:55.9. Third and fourth finishers Ireland’s 1956 Olympic 1,500m champion Ron Delaney and Murray Halberg of New Zealand were just outside the old record, both clocking 3:57.5. Another Australian Albie Thomas was fifth also under 4 mins with Tony sixth in 4:04.4 (equivalent to c3:46 for 1500m) to take a second off John Disley’s Welsh record. Almost 60 years on, that Dublin race is still classed as one of the finest mile races of all time – and Tony was part of it. An indication of how good Tony was is that his 1500 equivalent time would have ranked him 7th in Wales last year – almost 60 years after his Dublin run.
1958 Empire Games Sprinter Dewi Roberts, who also ran that day in Dublin and a lifetime friend had visited him only last week. He said that he appeared quite pleased that he had outlived his great adversary Ibbotson who had died recently!
Earlier in 1958, Tony had run in the Cardiff Games, but was beaten to the Welsh title that year by fellow North Walian Disley. Altogether Tony took the Welsh mile title four times, firstly in 1953 as a 21 year old and lastly in 1959.
He was also an outstanding cross country runner, representing Wales in the International Cross Country Championships (the fore-runner of the present world championships) four times, finishing third in the 1957 Welsh championships behind Norman Horrell and Dick Morgan. He also captained the team in 1960.
Born in Bangor, where he lived all of his life, and educated in Friars School Bangor, he started running when he went into the army to complete his national service. Apparently, he had a choice of cleaning floors or running for the battalion in a cross country race! He won that race and this lead to his career as an international athlete. His brother was a member of Coventry Godiva Harriers and Tony followed him to the Midlands club.
All in Welsh athletics send their sympathies to his three children and his long standing partner Rachel. His wife pre-deceased him some time ago.
Tony's funeral will be at the Crematorium in Bangor on Friday 24th March at 11.00 am, and afterwards at The Anglesey Arms in Menai Bridge.