Obituary: Sir Peter Heatly CBE, diver

Peter Heatly, Scottish diver who won gold medals at three consecutive Commonwealth Games. Picture: TSPLPeter Heatly, Scottish diver who won gold medals at three consecutive Commonwealth Games. Picture: TSPL
Peter Heatly, Scottish diver who won gold medals at three consecutive Commonwealth Games. Picture: TSPL
Born: 9 June, 1921, in Edinburgh. Died: 17 September 17, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 91.

When he was nominated to be one of the 50 original inductees of the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, Sir Peter Heatly was chosen unanimously because, as one of the judges said, no other Scottish sporting person had ever dominated their individual sport quite as much as he had.

The judges were also well aware of the extraordinary contribution to Scottish sport made behind the scenes by Heatly, not least in his endeavours on behalf of Scotland in the Commonwealth Games movement – it is no exaggeration to say that he is the only man to have helped “win” two Games for his city and country, those of 1970 and 1986 in Edinburgh.

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Heatly was Scotland’s “Mr Diving” for many years and, looking back on his career, it is quite incredible to think that he was entirely self-taught on the diving boards.

That he went on to become a major figure in the sport and in the Commonwealth Games Federation was proof of his commitment to diving and sport in general over eight decades.

Born in Leith, a fact of which he remained inordinately proud all his life, Heatly was educated at Leith Academy – in later life he would become a regular speech-maker on Founder’s Day – before going on to study engineering at Edinburgh University.

By then he was already a champion diver. He began swimming as a child at Portobello Amateur Swimming Club and an early fascination with diving soon developed into genuine talent in a sport which combines gymnastics and power, and needs plenty courage – Heatly himself admitted that he didn’t always enter the water cleanly and painlessly.

Scotland had been a pioneer in the sport of diving, hosting the first ever national championships in the sport in Britain as far back as 1889.

In Peter Heatly in the 1930s, the sport in Scotland was to gain an inventive and powerfully graceful figure. By the age of 16 he was the Eastern Area diving champion and held that distinction for three years, before the outbreak of war curtailed much competitive sport.

He became a civil engineer at the Naval dockyard in Rosyth, and on his competitive return to the sport he won his first Scottish championship in 1946. He was to hold the title for an astonishing 12 years in succession, winning the “treble” of two platform and one springboard championships on every occasion.

His job at Rosyth proved useful when Heatly was selected at the age of 24 for the Great Britain team for the 1948 Olympic Games in London. He was able to use the Naval facilities at Rosyth and received some training tips on trips south, but it was still a largely self-coached Heatly who went to the Olympics where he finished out of the medals in a competition featuring just the 3 metre springboard and 10m highboard, and which was dominated by the Americans.

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Two years later, Heatly began his run in the Commonwealth or Empire Games, as they were then known.

In 1950 in Auckland, he won gold in the 10m high board competition and silver in the 3m springboard behind George Athans of Canada, father of the Olympic skier Gary.

A second gold came four years later in the 3m springboard competition in Vancouver, where he also took bronze in the 10m highboard. The golden hat-trick came in the 1958 Games in Cardiff where he won the 10m highboard.

Heatly remains the only Scottish competitor in any sport to have won a gold medal at three consecutive Commonwealth Games and he also remains the only Scottish athlete to have won a medal in diving.

Heatly retired from diving after that Cardiff success, and seamlessly moved into the administration side of sport, both his own and others, and all the time building up his own business.

A naturally friendly and charming individual who was both well-organised and motivational, Heatly was a natural at sports management and administration.

His first major role was as chairman of the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland, and in this capacity he had a great deal to do with the success of the “Friendly Games” at Edinburgh in 1970.

He was immensely proud to be present at the opening of the Royal Commonwealth Pool, complete with Olympic standard diving pool, for the 1970 Games and at its re-opening after refurbishment in 2012 in time for the 2014 Glasgow Games.

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Heatly was appointed chairman of the Scottish Sports Council in 1975 and, having developed strong links with the Commonwealth countries at Edinburgh, he became chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation from 1982 to 1990.

That period included the return of the Games to Edinburgh in 1986, for which he was largely responsible. Though it had budget problems, the Games looked set to emulate the success of the 1970 edition, until Margaret Thatcher’s stand against sanctions on South Africa provoked a boycott of the Games.

Heatly later admitted: “When it hit, the extent and range surprised everybody. It broke ten days before the Games and every morning you would wake up and another country had decided not to come. It was terrible. You died a little bit every day over those ten days.”

He could content himself with the knowledge that at least the Games took place – no other city had bid for them until Healty intervened.

In all he attended 17 Commonwealth Games in various roles, and was made vice-president for Life of the Games Federation.

Twice president of the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association, the second time being for the Centenary Year in 1988, Heatly was awarded a CBE in 1971 and was knighted in 1990 for his services to sport.

The City of Edinburgh conferred on him the title of Deputy Lieutenant in 1984, and in the 1990s he also gained honorary degrees from Edinburgh University and Queen Margaret’s College, now University.

Along with all his sporting work and business activities, Heatly still found time for charity, being a member of Rotary International for more than 60 years.

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His son Robert also went into sports administration as chief executive of Scottish Hockey, and his son James competed for Scotland in the diving competition at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, watched by a proud grandfather.

Heatly had four children Anne, Jane, Peter and Robert, by his first wife, who died in 1979. In 1984, he married Mae Cochrane, herself a former diving champion and renowned sports administrator. She died in 2003.