Obituary – Thomas Michael Winn #GreenNumber138
(17.9.1930 – 24.10.2020)
The Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) is saddened by news of the death of Founding Chairperson, Green Number runner and retired pharmacist Mick Winn. He was 90 years old.
Mick has been associated with the Comrades Marathon for well over 50 years. He completed 12 Comrades Marathons between 1964 and 1975 with a Best Time of 6:34, a slowest time of 10:52 and holds Green Number 138. He is a Life Member of Collegians Harriers and was the founding Chairman of the Comrades Marathon Association in 1981.
Mick served on the CMA organising/ executive committee for 15 years commencing in 1971 and for 12 years as Chairperson from 1974 – 1986, during which time the race grew from just under 1000 to just over 10,000 participants.
Under his leadership, the Comrades Marathon became the first major sporting event in South Africa to open to men and women of all races. He was associated with and/or personally responsible for many of the innovations which characterize the race as it is known today, including the abolition of personal seconding and introduction of refreshment stations, the theme song Chariots of Fire, introduction of commercial sponsorship and live television coverage, the introduction of the Comrades Expo concept, the firing of a gun to signify the end of the race and the decision to purchase Comrades Marathon House and initiate the Comrades Marathon Museum.
After retiring as CMA Executive Chairperson in 1986, he continued his association with the event by serving on the CMA Board of Trustees consecutively for the next 20 years, during which time his chief area of responsibility was for the CMA charity portfolio from 1995 – 2006, initially associated with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund from 1995 – 1997, before introducing the concept of Amabeadibeadi, which became universally recognized as the CMA’s own official multi-charity initiative.
Mick has long been regarded as the “elder statesman” at Comrades and has on many an occasion, been called upon to impart his leadership, wisdom, diplomacy and vision, particularly with regard to disputes and/or issues relating to transformation.
In 2014 he was elected as Chairperson of the newly formed CMA Elders Committee, a fellowship and advisory body comprised of past leaders of CMA which was formulated to preserve and retain access to the collective wisdom and institutional knowledge relating to the history, traditions and ethos of the CMA.
Apart from his involvement with The Ultimate Human Race, Mick also contributed decades of his life to athletics administration at club, provincial and national level in South Africa. He served for many years on the old NAAA (forerunner of today’s KZNA), 3 years as Chairperson of the Natal Marathon Runners Association in the late 1970’s; and first as Vice Chairperson, then 12 years as Chairperson of the South African Road Running Association (1982 -1994), during which time road running as a sport grew and prospered as never before or since.
Often referred to as the golden era of South African road running, under SARRA, South African road running athletes achieved world class performances, including two unofficial world record performances (Matthews Temane’s 60:11 half marathon in East London, July 1987 and Elana Meyer’s 15km in Cape Town, November 1991), as SARRA focused its intense endeavours on creating the best possible environment for incentivising, encouraging and providing competition and opportunities for the achievement of excellence, within the confines of international isolation.
Under the period of Mick Winn’s leadership, the infrastructure of the sport of road running was also extensively formalized and developed, with SARRA initiating countrywide implementation of minimum standards in terms of medical facilities, accurate course measurement and timing, standardization of rules and qualification of technical officials, as well as universal minimum requirements for refreshment stations, which exist to this day.
Mick personally waged epic battles against the old SAAAU, initially for the right to open the Comrades Marathon to all races; and later for the rights and recognition of road runners, including the awarding of national colours, previously reserved exclusively for track athletes, which eventually led to such world class road runners as Ernest Seleke, Mark Plaatjes, Bernard Rose, Bruce Fordyce, Zithulele Sinqe, Willie Mtolo, Matthews Temane, Thompson Magawane, Xolile Yawa, Matthews Motshwarateu, Sonja Laxton, Annette Falkson, Helena Joubert and Frith van der Merwe receiving their Springbok colours for achieving world-class performances despite international isolation, a recognition they rightfully deserved alongside their track and field counterparts.
Also on behalf of SARRA, he fought vigorously for the respect of road running as an entity within the sport of athletics, the power of its numbers and the magnitude of its financial impact on the sport in general, in particular ultra-marathon running, from club to national level, while the interests and will of the road running masses were often de-prioritized.
Mick was also regarded as the main initiator and played an instrumental role in the transformation process in athletics, even travelling to Harare to establish relationships with the then-banned and ANC-aligned National Sports Congress, as well as the non-racial sports federation, SACOS (the South African Council on Sports). Despite being harshly condemned at the time in establishment quarters, he steadfastly believed that it was the only road to the ultimate normalisation and unification of sport.
In 1990, together with Bullet Alexander, he received the South African President’s Sports Award in recognition of outstanding contribution towards the world’s greatest ultra-marathon, while in 2017 he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to sport in KwaZulu-Natal by the KZN Department of Sport & Recreation, as well as being honoured by the Comrades Marathon Association in naming its meeting hall at Comrades Marathon House in Pietermaritzburg, the Mick Winn Hall of Honour.
In his professional life Mick ran a successful business in Pietermaritzburg for 45 years and is a Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of SA. He was also active in his community and service organisations, including the Rotary Foundation for which he was awarded by Rotary International the prestigious Paul Harris Fellowship Award for furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world.
He served on the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Commerce Executive for several years and was a member of various other service organizations. He was awarded Civic Honours by the City of Pietermaritzburg in 1988.
CMA Vice Chairperson, Mqondisi Ngcobo, on behalf of the CMA Board says, “Mick was a formidable and selfless leader, elder and friend. His contributions to the Comrades Marathon Association cannot be overstated. He spearheaded initiatives and introduced innovations that were way ahead of his time. We are extremely grateful to him for his contributions, his foresightedness and his endless efforts in making the Comrades Marathon great. He will be missed but never forgotten. His legacy will live on for posterity. Our sincere condolences go out to our Chairperson, Cheryl Winn and their family.”
CMA General Manager, Keletso Totlhanyo, on behalf of the CMA Staff says, “We are saddened by this great loss. Mick served as a CMA Elder till the very end and remained committed to the success of the Comrades Marathon. His wisdom and decades of experience could always be called upon when needed. We thank him for his contributions to The Ultimate Human Race, the legacy of which will live on for a long time to come. He will be dearly missed and fondly remembered. Our thoughts are with Cheryl and the family.”
Former CMA Chairperson, Jeff Minnaar says, “Mr Comrades, Mick Winn whom I had nicknamed ‘Mickaelangelo of the CMA’ was the architect of the CMA and the race. The CMA paid Mick a fitting tribute by naming the meeting hall at Comrades House, the Mick Winn Hall of Honour in 2017. He was a friend in need and a friend indeed. He was a mentor and a man of integrity. He was kind and caring with strong principles. I shared many hours seeking advice from Mick, who was someone who always made time for you. I will miss our weekly chats and warm greetings. Rest in peace my dear friend. To Cheryl and family, our sincere condolences to you. Thank you for sharing Mick with us for so long.”
Former CMA Chairperson, Dave Dixon says, “Mick was the “Legendary Icon” of marathon and ultra-marathon running in South Africa and internationally. It was a privilege and an honour to be part of and chair the Comrades Marathon Association of which Mick was the Founding Chairperson. His knowledge, guidance and mentorship was nothing short of incredible. He was a personal family friend for many decades and a true gentleman at all levels. We will miss him dearly and our sincerest condolences go to Cheryl and his entire family.”
Former CMA Board Member, Terence Hoskins says, “Mick was a consummate gentleman and committed to the Comrades Marathon. He was a positive and determined person who ran the Comrades and lived the spirit of this great race. We will miss him and always be guided by his love and enthusiasm for Comrades.”
CMA Board Member, Isaac Ngwenya says, “Mick Winn embodied the attributes of a true leader who championed the cause of road runners and took the Comrades Marathon to great heights. He was an anchor and a rock regarding transformation of athletics in South Africa, from SAAAU days to present. Pioneering the inclusivity of runners of all races and both genders in the Comrades Marathon from days gone by to what it is today was no mean feat. We will remain indebted to this great man for going beyond the call of duty to serve the Association. As we bid farewell to Mick, we are mindful that his legacy is one that will be long remembered and worth celebrating. Hamba kahle my friend. May your soul rest in peace.”
Athletics South Africa President, Aleck Skhosana says, “It is a sad day as we bid farewell to someone who has contributed so much to athletics, through his involvement in various roles in the running fraternity, least of all, his commitment to the success of the Comrades Marathon and other athletics bodies. Mick Winn will long be remembered as someone who championed the cause of runners and worked tirelessly towards improving on all aspects of road running. His contributions will live on in years to come as we celebrate the life of a remarkable man and cherish his efforts in taking athletics to greater heights. Gone but never forgotten. My sincere condolences to Cheryl and the family.”
9-time Comrades Marathon Champ, Bruce Fordyce says, “So long Comrades Green Number 138. I will miss your effervescent sense of humour, your enthusiasm for everything you did and your warm friendship. You were a perfect gentleman. I am so sorry I didn’t hug you at the Comrades finish but I tried many times. With great love and respect #2403.”
Mick is survived by his beloved wife Cheryl, 5 sons, a daughter, 14 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren, all of whom he cherished above all others.