Tributes paid to unsung hero who became one of Melton’s sporting greats

Strains of the theme tune to the classic Chariot’s of Fire movie will fittingly play as family members and friends pay their last respects on Friday to Melton’s own running man, Ron Grove.

Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 1:51 pm
Ron and Judy Grove on their wedding day at St Mary's Church, Melton, in 1959 EMN-190309-104229001

Ron, who has passed away aged 81, didn’t start running seriously until he was 17 but went on to become one of Britain’s greatest middle distance runners in the 1960s, a world record breaker and an international who narrowly missed out on competing at the Olympic Games.

One of his greatest achievements came in 1968 when he helped the legendary Ron Hill break the world record for the longest distance covered in one hour.

He amassed a huge collection of regional, national and international medals despite having to juggle training and competing with night shifts at the town’s Petfoods Masterfoods factory.

Ron Grove running in the Bellshire Half Marathon, in Melton, in 1988 EMN-190309-104209001

Ron’s family said he was frustrated in later life when he was fitted with a pacemaker and told by GPs he shouldn’t run anymore.

He suffered a stroke and sadly passed away at the Leicester Royal Infirmary on August 24.

His widow, Judy, told the Melton Times: “Ron was proud of his running career but he didn’t boast about it.

“Everyone wanted to talk to him about it when we were in town and I sometimes got annoyed.

Ron Grove (right) receives a special award to mark his 50th birthday from fellow running legend Ron Hill (left) and Jim Bishop, of Stilton Striders EMN-190309-104159001

“Someone said earlier this year ‘are you still running Ron?’ and I replied ‘for goodness sake, he’s 81’.

“I want to have the Chariot’s of Fire music playing at his funeral because it will be very fitting for everything he achieved.”

Ron was born in London just before the Second World War but was evacuated in 1940 as the German bombing raids ramped up.

He arrived in Harby with his two-year-old twin, Peter, and five-year-old sister, Jean.

A recent photo of Ron and Judy Grove, who celebrated their diamond wedding this year EMN-190309-104149001

They lived on a farm and then moved into a cottage in the village with no electricity or running water.

Ron attended Harby School and Melton Modern Boys’ School before leaving to do farmwork and then take his job at Petfoods, where he worked for 31 years.

He met Judy at a dance in Long Clawson and the couple got married at Melton’s St Mary’s Church in 1959 - they celebrated their diamond wedding in June.

The couple had three sons - Tim, Michael and David - a grandson, Jonathan, and a great-grandson, Charlie.

Ron Grove (extreme left) competing in a race EMN-190309-104129001

He enjoyed telling family members about his running career, including the time he so nearly qualified for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.

That he missed out on selection for the 10,000m was a blessing in disguise, according to Judy, who remembers the shock of Australian athlete Ron Clarke collapsing in the race due to altitude sickness.

She said: “I was pleased he didn’t go to Mexico in the end and so was Ron.

“Ron Clarke suffered heart problems all his life after that race and Ron was never very good in the heat anyway.”

Later that year, Ron took part in an iconic attempt on the British one-hour record - the longest distance covered in 60 minutes - at Leicester’s Saffron Lane stadium.

The Melton man pushed Ron Hill all the way to a world record as well as a British best.

Ron and Judy Grove on their wedding day at St Mary's Church, Melton, in 1959 EMN-190309-104139001

Ron’s son, Tim, said: “I believe dad worked a night shift on the Friday, helped break that world record on the Saturday and then did another night shift afterwards.

“That is pretty astonishing really.”

Ron’s remarkable running career was sparked by a camping holiday he took with his twin brother and a group of friends to Wales, where they played a variety of sports and one of their number mentioned a new athletics club was due to start up in Melton and suggested they go along.

It was called Melton Mowbray Amateur Boxing and Athletic Club and its main coach was Bill Goddard, a former Midlands middle distance champion who became an early mentor for Ron with advice on training and competing.

Ron was a natural and racked up a string of county titles, including a remarkable sequence of 18 North Midlands League race victories.

He enjoyed numerous call-ups to represent England and Great Britain and on two occasions was a proud member of the national team’s gold medal winning successes in the World Cross Country Championships.

He ran for Leicester Coritanians at the height of his success and was one of the first members of the local Stilton Striders club when it formed in 1982.

Ron’s best marathon time was an incredible two hours and 17 minutes, which he set in Belgium in May 1969 when the legendary Australian Derek Clayton broke the world record.

He continued to win age category races right up to his retirement from running - at the height of his career Ron used to run around 80 miles every week and he still managed to run around 40 before he stopped racing.

His son Tim added: “Dad liked to keep fit in the last few years of his life.

“He used to do press-ups and sit-ups every day when he was told not to run anymore.”

Melton Council leader, Joe Orson, nominated Ron for a civic award in 2008 for his services to sport in the borough.

He said: “I remember as a lad seeing Ron running around the streets of Melton long before jogging became popular and watching him on TV competing for Britain at the old White City.

“I’ve never seen anyone run so smoothly and light-footed. He was a real unsung hero and Melton should be proud of him.”

The last word goes to Ron. In an interview with the Melton Times in 2002, he said: “You cannot describe to somebody what it feels like to be super fast at running.

“Your feet don’t touch the ground and it is something that you have to experience to know what it actually feels like to run effortlessly.”

A funeral service and cremation will be at Loughborough Crematorium on Friday September 6, at 11am.

Family flowers only are request with any donations to be made to the British Heart Foundation via Shane Mousley & Son Funeral Directors.

Ron Grove running in a track race during the height of his glittering athletics career EMN-190309-104219001
Ron and Judy Grove on their wedding day at St Mary's Church, Melton, in 1959 EMN-190309-104239001