Obituary: Joe McGhee, 85, Commonwealth Games gold medallist

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Joe McGhee, a 1954 Commonwealth Games marathon gold medallist, has died, aged 85.

Born in Camelon near Falkirk, Mr McGhee was dux at his local RC primary school and showed his running prowess from an early age. Encouraged by his father, Mr McGhee was a champion runner all through his teenage years, and then at Glasgow University, where he began his MA degree in 1946. His achievements included medal-winning ­performances at the Scottish Universities’ Cross Country Championships, leading ­Glasgow to team gold, and selection for the Scottish Universities’ cross-country team during every year of his studies.

Prolonging his studies to take the Bachelor of Education degree, Mr McGhee finally graduated in 1951. He began teaching at St Modan’s High School in Stirling and joined the local ­athletics club, St Modan’s AAC, for whom he placed third in the Scottish marathon ­championship in 1953. He would go on to win the marathon title in 1954, 1955 and 1956 – the first man ever to achieve that feat.

Called up for National Service, Mr McGhee served as a Flight Lieutenant at Turnhouse and later credited his time in the RAF with enabling him to improve enough to win the Commonwealth gold medal in Vancouver, Canada in August, 1954.

That race will always be recalled for the heroic failure of Jim Peters of England, who was 16 minutes ahead of Mr McGhee as he entered the stadium on a blisteringly hot day. A crowd of 37,000 watched in horror as Peters was overcome by exhaustion and collapsed 200 yards short of the finish. The Vancouver marathon win brought him fame at home. “The victory ceremony as the Scottish flag was raised will remain an unforgettable memory,” Mr McGhee said later. The next season he set a new native record of 2hrs 25m 50secs in retaining his Scottish marathon title. Sadly, surgery on a troublesome back effectively halted his career as a top-class runner.

He married Margaret Law, also a teacher, in 1960 and the couple set up home in Edinburgh when Mr McGhee became head of English at St David’s High School in Dalkeith. They had five children, Joseph, Louise, Gillian, Pauline and Clare.

He kept running, then jogged, until 1995 when knee injuries finally reduced him to walking pace. Living in Edinburgh in retirement, Mr McGhee suffered an aneurysm eight years ago and also had his knees replaced, but remained active and fit.

Sadly, his wife Margaret suffered a massive stroke several weeks ago, and Mr McGhee’s own health took a sudden turn for the worse, before he passed away in the Royal Infirmary. He is survived by Margaret and his five children and six grandchildren.