THE North East athletics family has been hit a double whammy with the news that long-serving officials John Keefe and Hudson Stoker passed away last weekend.
It’s a huge blow to everyone who knew the two superb servants who graced the field of athletics in a special style by going about their business in a quiet but exceptional way and with their passing the sport will be a lonely place without them.
The Harrier League in particular is hugely grateful and appreciative for the tireless work the pair put in over many years which, in a sense, helped make the NEHL the envy of other cross-country leagues throughout the country.
John started life as an athlete with his home-town club Jarrow Cycling and Athletics Club having notable successes giving the club a strong standing in the region. A move into the admin side with the likes of Tommy Power, Jimmy Hedley, Bob Charlton and Eric Huskisson after a name change to Jarrow and Hebburn Athletics Club, saw the South Tyneside outfit prosper even further especially when they had athletes of the calibre of Steve Cram and the largely unheralded David Sharpe, proud athletes who competed on the World stage in the famous gold with blue sash vest.
If his work at the club wasn’t enough – he filled all the major positions at one time or another – John took on the role as Harrier League secretary at a time when the organisation was struggling for funds. But he had the answer. He asked for volunteers on race days to go round with a bucket persuading competitors and their supporters to dig deep for the cause and it worked a treat so much so the league is now in a much healthier state now as the collecting bucket is no longer and in the archives of history!
Jonathan Gilroy presenting John Keefe with the Jarvis Award at Jarrow & Hebburn's 80th Anniversary
After passing over the league secretary position John continued to be a regular at Jarrow & Hebburn and local fixtures despite some atrocious weather working as an official at the finish line, a role he also enjoyed in warmer climes at track meetings throughout the region.
Hudson, meanwhile, was, in comparison to John, a relatively late starter to the local athletics scene after linking up with the Northumbrians in 1986. However, he quickly made his mark after working alongside great friend George Patterson as members of Morpeth Harriers.
A gentle gentleman, Hudson proved an asset to the Northumberland outfit where he took on many tasks without question, a fact quickly recognised by the hierarchy which resulted in him being installed as a life-member.
Away from his club duties Hudson found a new niche when he took up announcing duties like a duck to water. While local events were the bread and butter, especially with the mic in one hand and his beloved camera around his neck ready for action before proclaiming in that immaculate voice of his: ‘Slow pack you have five minutes to the start’ at a HL fixture. His calm delivery quickly got him recognised where he was installed at Northern Athletics’ events as well as English Road Relay Championships.
RIP John and Hudson, our thoughts and prayers are with all your family and friends at this sad time.
*For further tributes to John and Hudson check the relative club websites
George & Hudson at the 2019 Northern's XC Champs
Bill McGuirk is the North East's top athletics correspondent. NECAA Chairman and official, Bill can be found at all local athletics events supporting the sport he loves.