In the eyes of athletics fans Ron’s claim to fame is undoubtedly being part of the British team that set a new world 4 x 110 yards record in 1963; being Britain’s athletics captain at the 1968 Mexico Olympics and winning more Welsh sprint titles than anyone else, including Ken Jones, Christian Malcolm and Colin Jackson.
But to the wider world, it is probably the fact that he achieved distinction in football that he is best known. He was appointed Chief Executive of Queens Park Rangers in 1976, having spent the previous nine years on the QPR staff as a part time coaching adviser, before moving to Cardiff’s Ninian Park in 1980 to become the first paid Managing Director of a Football League Club. He left Cardiff City in June 1988 to rejoin John Gregory, his former boss at QPR, to become Managing Director at Portsmouth.
However, there is no doubt where his sporting loyalties lie – with athletics. Cwmaman born, but a member of Cardiff’s Birchgrove Harriers, he took his first sprint Welsh title at Cardiff’s Maindy Stadium in 1956, beating the eventual 1960 Olympic sprint relay bronze medallist, Nick Whitehead. In total Ron won 12 Welsh sprint titles between 1956 and 1970, which is still a record. However, his first win in 1956 was remarkable in the circumstances. Ron explains: “I was a late starter in the sport and, after knocking on the front door of Bernard Baldwin, the former Welsh AAA secretary, at his Mountain Ash house for advice, he suggested that I ran the Glamorgan championships of that year. With very little training or preparation I won the 440 yards but came nowhere in the 100. At that time I had already entered for the Welsh championships in both the 100 and 440 yards and as the 100 event came before the 440 I ran that and, to my great surprise, won. It was only the second or third 100 I had ever run! Perhaps if the 440 had come first I would have just run in that, and not bothered with the 100 again!”
Ron’s most pleasing moment in a glittering athletics career spanning fifteen years was when he bettered 1948 Olympic sprint relay silver medallist’s Ken Jones’ total of seven Welsh 100 yards titles in 1970. Ron rates this performance even above the occasion in 1963 when, as a member of one of the most famous British sprint relay quartets of all time, he equalled the world 4 x 110 yards record at the White City beating the mighty USA. Their quartet, which included Bob Hayes, the man destined to win the 1964 Tokyo Olympic 100m, hadn’t been beaten for many a year.
Another satisfying moment came in 1969 at the ripe old age of 34 when he took the AAA (British) 100m title to follow in the footsteps of fellow Welshmen Fred Cooper (1898) and Berwyn Jones (1963).
He set his first Welsh 100m record with a hand-timed 10.5 secs in 1959, beating the 10.6 set at the 1948 Olympics by Ken Jones. He held the Welsh automatically timed 100 metres record for a phenomenal 27 years, until Colin Jackson beat it with 10.29 secs in 1990.
Altogether Ron won 31 British international vests. In many of those international matches, he was handing the baton over in the sprint relay to the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ming Campbell. “I had to be careful in placing the baton firmly in his hand, because even in those days he was liable to change direction”, quips Ron. Staying in political mode, Ron adds that if he had to hand over to another famous (or infamous!) political athlete, Jeffrey Archer, he would have asked for a receipt!
Ron took part in nine major championships – 4 Commonwealth, 3 European and 2 Olympics. Retirement came at the end of the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh just a month ahead of his 36th birthday. Recalling those 1970 Games, Ron says that he was foolish to run, as he was suffering from an injury which subsequently brought about his retirement. Says Ron: “We had a chance of a sprint relay medal, but I felt that if I ran, I could break-down and let the team down, so I reluctantly withdrew from the team” Wales finished fifth, just 18 hundredths behind bronze medallists England.
He is still very active as director of the sports charity SportsAid Cymru Wales, which he joined in 1990, and was appointed governor in 1997 on the retirement of Cadfan Davies. He was awarded the MBE in the 2001 New Year’s Honours List for his services to sport and charity.
Ron was inducted into the Welsh Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009