Athletics Australia sadly bids farewell to one of the sport’s outstanding contributors with the passing on 28 February of its Life Member - Marion Patterson OAM.
Marion dedicated her life to athletics after beginning her involvement in the sport as a competitive shot putter.
She rose to become one of the first women appointed to the IAAF Panel of International Race Walking Judges but always maintained a strong involvement in club, state and national athletics in all aspects of the sport.
Marion was one of the earliest members of Brunswick Women’s AAC, joining in 1956-57. The Club recognised her unwavering service with a life membership in 1973. She served for eight years as vice president and was a delegate to the Victorian WAAA both for Brunswick and Yallourn Newborough.
Her roles in club and state athletics were myriad – interclub committee; equipment steward at the old Poplar Road, Royal Park venue; timekeeper, field judge, chief judge and referee; cross country and walks official.
But her skills were soon recognised more broadly, and opportunities at higher levels beckoned and were taken enthusiastically. Marion was one of those who was keen to bridge the then divide between women’s and men’s athletics. She was soon acknowledged as one of Australia’s most competent race walking judges.
She was often chief judge for National Rod Walking Championships beginning in 1969 and was appointed to the panel for all major selection trials.
Her first international appointment as a technical official came in 1974 for the Commonwealth Games in Auckland, and within five years Marion was appointed to the IAAF Walk Judges Panel.
But technical officiating was not the only string to Marion’s bow. She was a regular manager of Victorian women’s teams to national cross country championships and other meets from 1973.
Victorian and Australian cross-country champion, Lynne Williams AM recalls with much affection that: “Marion seemed ever present throughout all my competitive running years, first in the VWAA then AV/AA. She really was a hard worker, and we were all scared to cross her!”
Athletics Australia Life Governor Margaret Mahony OAM observes that: “She was a shot putter and I have a very vivid memory of her running the third leg of a relay.
“She has been a very loyal person in our sport over so many years.”
Marion’s abilities as a team leader were also quickly recognised, soon after being appointed to managerial roles in Australian teams including the Pacific Conference Games in 1977, the Australian v New Zealand Match and Junior Tour to the USA in 1978 and the World Race Walking Cup in 1979.
Marion qualified as a coach in 1966 and mentored both athletes and other coaches from then on - in both the metropolitan area and on frequent visits to country centres. Her early charges included AA Life Governors, Lorraine Morgan and Ian Boswell.
Not surprisingly upon the amalgamation of the men’s and women’s associations, Marion was in the forefront – immediately becoming chair of the national race walking committee.
At state level, she was an inaugural member of Athletics Victoria’s Winter Committee in 1982 – an aspect of the sport for which she had a particular passion and to which Marion was dedicated until her passing. She served on the AV Board in this capacity.
Marion was respected across the sport and in 1986 was one of the first to receive life membership (then known as the AAU Merit Award) of the amalgamated national body. Such was the politics of the sport at the time that many nominations were declined but not so in Marion’s case. The same year brought life membership of Athletics Victoria.
Her contribution to the sport, always on a voluntary basis, continued after that – often during trying personal circumstances including a serious workplace accident at the factory where she was employed and later the loss of her house, personal possessions and beloved athletics records in a house fire.
At major international events in Australia, Marion’s diverse skills and qualifications were displayed in her appointments - as a walk judge at the 1982 Commonwealth Games, a field events official at the 1985 World Cup and a call room judge at the 2001 IAAF Grand Prix Final in Melbourne.
Overseas there were roles at two other Commonwealth Games and major IAAF competitions as a walk judge.
In 2007 Marion was presented with the Athletics Australia Platinum Service Award acknowledging forty years’ service as a technical official and administrator.
When her health and mobility affected Marion’s capacity to continue in other roles, she became a welcoming face at check-in and call room front desks at Athletics Victoria competitions – summer and winter.
Marion was recognised by the Order of Australia in 1998 receiving the OAM for service to athletics, particularly race walking. This was followed by the Australian Sport Medal in 2000 for her work as a technical and team official.
Outside athletics Marion served as a member and vice president of the Brunswick Municipal Sports Committee and played the bass drum in the Coburg Ladies Pipe Band. She was a generous worker in the community for the less fortunate and on many occasions provided a “taxi” service to those who would have otherwise been unable to attend appointments and events.
Marion Patterson’s life and service to the community will be recognised at her funeral service on Wednesday 14 March at Victoria Funerals, 415 Victoria Street, Brunswick at 11.30am.