Clifford Looby (1934-2019)
One of Bermuda’s pioneering bodybuilders and fitness trainers has died at 85.
Clifford Looby competed overseas as well as locally, rubbing shoulders with internationally known figures such as the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Other friends included Carla Dunlap, a top female bodybuilder from the United States, who came to visit his gym in Bermuda.
A devoted member of the Salvation Army, Mr Looby was an avid photographer and painter, and in 1964 shot his own film, Tarzan in Bermuda.
Starting from a modest 126 pounds at age 18, Mr Looby bulked up rapidly and maintained an iron physique into old age.
He told The Royal Gazette in 2016, when he was 81 and working out with 100lb weights: “People asked me if I was on steroids.”
He started out using improvised cement weights, and built his own equipment from discarded pipes with the help of the blacksmith “Artie” Black.
Mr Looby was still a teenager in 1951 when he built his first gym, converting an empty stable on Parsons Road.
In the early 1960s, he worked in the final years on board the iconic cruise ship Queen of Bermuda.
In 1965, he married his wife of 19 years, Cheri. The couple had two children, Shannon and Mistie.
Mr Looby worked as a hospital orderly and laundry worker, then as a prison guard, becoming a mentor to young men behind bars, before settling as a trainer.
He began a new gym downstairs at the family home on Happy Valley Road, Devonshire, before setting up shop in Hamilton, as demand grew.
Brenton Roberts, a former director of the Department of Youth, Sport and Recreation, recalled starting training at Mr Looby’s gym on Court Street in 1971.
“Cliff was my trainer for the next 28 years,” Mr Roberts said. “He had a versatile training technique and was one of the most creative chaps you would find in fitness.
“All the modern equipment we have now, Cliff would purpose-make himself. He went to the [Pembroke] Dump for pipes and built every kind of machine.”
Mr Looby lived with his daughter at the time of his passing, Mr Roberts added.
Clients included the top race walker Sinclair Smith and Gina Swainson as she trained for Miss World and Miss Universe in 1979.
He was a prominent member of the Bermuda Body Building Federation with the trainer and fellow enthusiast Percy Paynter.
Mr Roberts called him “a devoted family man and longstanding member of the Salvation Army”.
Deeply religious, Mr Looby was a drummer in the Salvation Army marching band and typically had a Bible open at his various gyms.
Family shared his love of fitness, including his brother, MacInnis Looby Sr.
Bill Cook, a veteran bodybuilder from Northern Ireland, lifted weights with Mr Looby starting in 1959.
Mr Cook said: “There weren’t many people interested in bodybuilding and fitness in those days. It was a sort of Cinderella sport — people looked at you as an oddity.”
Hired to bring physical education to Bermuda’s prison, Mr Cook worked with Mr Looby, whose uniform was always “impeccably turned out”.
The former Mr Ireland winner added: “I introduced weight training for prisoners. People were horrified at the time, particularly police, but they became model prisoners; it was therapeutic.
“Cliff was very helpful to me, and I made a lot of friends on the bodybuilding group, becoming head judge for contests.
“You could safely say Cliff was the best-known bodybuilder. He was before any of them.”
Mr Looby told the Gazette in 2000: “I will do it until I die. I feel in very good shape.”
He added: “I have a responsibility to take care of this temple I call my body until God calls me home.”
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