Remembering Don Oliver – by Bruce Fordyce
Former Comrades Marathon coach, Rockies member, running mentor and friend, Don Oliver, passed away on 27 September 2019. His good friend Bruce Fordyce wrote this tribute to him:
The definition of a Comrades great is not just based on how many wins a runner has achieved, or indeed on how many medals he or she might have accumulated but rather on the contribution that that runner has made to the great race and to our sport in general. Contribution, contribution, contribution, outweighs achievement every time.
In this regard Don Oliver is truly a Comrades great. A veteran of 19 Comrades, 18 Two Oceans and dozens and dozens of marathons and races of other distances Don Oliver’s contribution has been immense. He has enriched the lives of thousands of runners, (I use the present tense here because though Don Is no longer with us his legacy lives on and will live on for decades to come.)
As we all know Don started the Rocky Road Runners novice runners panel discussions with Dennis Tabakin back in the late 1970s and these talks became legendary as they gained the reputation of the perfect guarantee of a Comrades medal. As a young Comrades runner Don and Dennis invited me to be a speaker on the panel back in 1980 the year after I had managed a 3rd place in the race.
From then on, I enjoyed participating every year for almost 40 years. Sometimes I spoke on more than one occasion. I recall the lecture halls being packed with enthusiastic runners sometimes filling up the aisles between the seats and hanging on to our every word. Don encourage a friendly rivalry with Tim Noakes who also spoke for a number of years. I can remember regular phone calls to Don where I would ask how many novices had attended Tim’s guest talk as opposed to mine.
“I think Tim has pipped you this year Bruce, but don’t you worry you will get him next year,” He would tease me reassuringly.
Thanks to that first invitation from Don and Dennis I became a better and better speaker eventually making public speaking one the things I still do to this day to earn a living.
I can still vividly recall Don encouraging and teasing novices in his slow and measured English accent;
“ Don’t you worry, You’re going to be alright. You’ve got Don’s pacing chart”
“When you have a bad patch, walk for a while, have a squeezie, talk to an old friend, find a new friend, but just keep going.”
“We’re from Rockies. We finish with dignity, we don’t fall into our father’s arms like Bruce Fordyce. We cross the finish line calmly and with dignity. We are Rockies. We don’t make a display of ourselves.”
But Don was a practical helper too and I ran a few marathons at Don’s side, particularly the Vaal marathon where he helped many runners qualify for the Comrades.
In addition, after he had lost his legs, Don continued to enrich the sport by volunteering as a much loved and appreciated timekeeper at Big Bay parkrun in Bloubergstrand.
However, the greatest honour I shared with Don was when we were jointly awarded platinum medals for “services to the Comrades” I cannot think of a finer gentleman and Comrades great with whom to share a special evening.
Before each one of the Rockies panel discussions Don would always start with the question; “ and where are we now?” If it was January he would answer his own question “ we’re preparing for our first half marathon, we’re gradually increasing our weekly mileage “
If it was the last panel discussion, just 10 days before the race he would leave the question hanging ominously in the air while dozens of nervous novices gulped with fright
But I know where we are now Don.
We are all the poorer for your passing, that’s where we are now.