I have just come from the funeral of Roger Bannister. It was a beautiful and moving service in St Mary the Virgin Church led by his daughter the Rev Charlotte Bannister Parker. I thought I knew a lot about him after interviewing him and reviewing his autobiography. I didn’t know that he was offered the Vice Chancellorship of Oxford University but turned it down because he thought Pembroke College needed him more. My generation were inspired and given hope by his breaking of the 4 minute mile. His life has affected hundreds of thousands of people through his research in neurology and his work as the first chair of the Sports Council. When he started Sports for All there were only 12 sports centres in England. By the end of his term there were 500. One thousand swimming pools were built because of him. He was a supporter of the NHS working only in the public sector. Roger Bannister was not only a great man but he was also a modest, kind and compassionate person. I had the privilege of interviewing Roger and Moyra Bannister in 2011 for the part biographical series where I send inspirational people to my mythical island of Oxtopia. Sir Roger hadn’t given an interview for many years and described himself as ‘ a private person’ so I was honoured that he gave up several hours to be interviewed by me. The Madras Courier gave the opportunity to write a tribute to this ground breaking athlete and scientist .
You can read the Castaway feature here and see some memorable pics below. His story is in Oxford Castaways the first of three castaway books.
I noted their warmth and pride when they talked about their family and I later witnessed it first-hand. So I know that the statement released on behalf of his family is perfect. “Sir Roger Bannister, died peacefully in Oxford on 3 March 2018, aged 88, surrounded by his family who were as loved by him, as he was loved by them.
“He banked his treasure in the hearts of his friends.”
There are wonderful tributes to Roger in the media but none of them do him justice. That iconic image of the young Roger breaking the 4 minute mile is etched upon the minds and optimism of my generation. For the 2010 feature he was keener to talk about his ground breaking career in neurology. I had the good fortune of interviewing him with Moyra. Roger described an experiment on himself trying to discover the causes of deaths from heat-disease of British soldiers in Aden. He was talking about it as if writing a paper for Nature when Moyra interrupted. ‘Yes’ she said ‘and when he came home he was green. I do not exaggerate. He was green. He could have killed himself!’
His memoir celebrating his scientific career as well as his short but brilliant sporting career was aptly titled Twin Tracks. I had the privilege of reviewing it for the Oxford Times and newsquest syndicated it. You can read it here.
Few people recognise that the foundations of the success of the London Olympics were laid by him as the first chairman of the Executive Sports Council. He was passionate about Sports for All.
Roger, Moyra and their daughter Charlotte have showed me great kindness and generosity. They have attended most ‘castaway’ events. I attach some pictures of them starting with the launch of Oxford Castaways in the appropriate setting of the cast gallery in the Ashmolean. Roger spoke eloquently against a background of heroic Greek athletes. He lived his life stretching himself mentally and physically but the warmth and love in his family is evident in the photograph of him and his daughter Charlotte at the launch of Oxford Castaways 3 which she hosted.
You can read her amazing story here. Charlotte Bannister-Parker
Anniversary event at Antiques on High. Another much loved Oxford character : Colin Dexter also in the front row died last year.
The Big Bang event.
The launch of Oxford Castaways 2 in the Story Museum
The launch of Oxford Castaways 3 in the Mathematics Institute
Roger and Moyra @ the launch of OC3