Michael Whalley (1946-2021)
Michael Whalley, a well-known runner who regularly finished in the top ten in the Bermuda Day Half-Marathon Derby in the 1970s and 1980s, including a third place in 1981, has died at 74.
In his tartan running vest he was instantly recognisable to many, and he acquired the nickname “The Flying Scotsman” because of his powerful running and his racing achievements that spanned five decades.
He continued to compete in road and cross-country races into his seventies, and was still putting in training miles late last year, even though he had been ill.
Whalley came to Bermuda about 50 years ago from his native Scotland. One of his sisters, Eleanor, was working on the island. He got a job as an electrician at the former Castle Harbour Hotel, and it was there he met his future wife, Fay, who had a senior role in the maintenance department. They were married in 1972, and together raised Edwin, Isabell and Eric.
During his lunch breaks at Castle Harbour, Whalley would go for training runs around Harrington Sound, often with colleagues from the hotel. He was known for his friendly encouragement of others.
He had been a keen cyclist in his younger days, and also played football. In Bermuda he turned out for Academicals during the 1970s.
He had a lifelong love of walking in the hills and mountains of Scotland, something he shared with his younger brother David, a well-known mountain rescuer in Scotland.
Whalley, whose late father was a church minister in Scotland, helped at Christ Church in Warwick, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. There he did maintenance, helped with the food banks and other jobs.
Throughout his life, he was an ever-present participants in road races and cross-country events in Bermuda. He barely, if ever, missed the Bermuda Day Half-Marathon Derby from the 1970s to his last finish in the race in 2017.
Among those who have paid tribute to Whalley is Adrian Robson, former sports editor at The Royal Gazette.
He said: “I, and so many other runners, will be mourning Mike’s passing.
“It’s safe to say ‘The Flying Scotsman’ has been one of the most popular road runners over the last 50 years, among both Bermudians and expats. He has been a fixture on the running scene throughout that time and he’s probably competed in more races than anyone, from 5K up to the marathon.
“Yet, he was always eager to help the younger runners and always made himself available as a volunteer.
“He rarely missed the May 24 marathon, and was instantly recognisable by the crowd through his well-worn tartan shorts. He loved his adopted country, but remained a proud Scotsman.”
He added: “Besides being a talented runner he was a tenacious football player. He played at a good standard in Scotland and joined Academicals as a tough-tackling full back when he arrived in Bermuda.
“But more than anything he’ll be remembered not only as an athlete but a genuine caring, humble human being. He’ll be sadly missed.”
Joe Lopes, who ran in many races with Whalley, said: “He was fantastic and so humble and encouraging to others. He was a really, really well-liked guy. Mike will always be remembered for his caring attitude and competitive spirit.”
Runner Carol Griffith, said: "I will always remember him as an extremely kind, humble and selfless person; always positive and encouraging to everyone. He was an excellent runner and I admired his passion for the sport and his level of commitment well into his later years. When running became difficult for him, he’d often tell me he was running on sheer guts!"
American Sid Howard, a former age-group world record-holder at 800 metres, has fond memories of Whalley. He was in Bermuda in 1979 to take part in the weekend races in January when they first met. The friendship endured. Whalley played a key role in helping Howard to finally receive an official race number of the Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby in the 2000s. Howard, as a non-resident, had for decades been unable to gain official status in the island’s signature race, although he ran it and ducked out just short of the finishing line.
Howard said: “He was an advocate for me to run in May 24 after all those years. I have so much respect and friendship for Michael, the flying Scotsman. He loved running and I admired him for the type of person he was.”
Fellow Scot Bob Oliver, who together with his wife, Midge, has competed in island races since the 1970s, said: “He was a good guy and he loved to do cross country. He also did a lot at the church; if he saw something needed to be done, he would do it.”
Whalley also worked as facilities manager for Fidelity in Bermuda for many years, and one of his colleagues there was fellow runner Stephen De Silva, who said: “Mike was someone who was welcome in all the different environments, and he was very thoughtful. I would train with him, but he was always a few steps ahead. He was a solid trainer who loved working on the dunes.”
Another runner, Donna Mae Arorash, said: “He always had kind words of encouragement for me. There is a bond between runners. You get used to chatting with them and sharing triumphs and defeats. Mike was a huge part of that running circle for many years. I cannot even imagine not seeing him out at the races any more. He will definitely be missed.”
Fay Whalley said her husband loved to write letters and she thought he would be remembered for his personality and for the way he encouraged everyone.