BORN: 7 July, 1941, in Edinburgh. Died: 7 February, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 73.
Throughout the 1960s and much of the 70s,Tom Tait was a notable figure on the Scottish athletics scene, which he graced with his impressive sprinting prowess, his sense of sportsmanship and his congeniality.
A “true blue” amateur of the Corinthian spirit, Tom’s equable temperament and pleasant nature endeared him to his fellow athletes for whom he was a much appreciated source of encouragement, particularly the younger ones. A fairly reserved individual, he preferred to let his feet do his talking on the track – and they did so to considerable effect.
In a career spanning 16 years from 1960 to 1975, Tom appeared each season in the country’s ranking lists of top athletes, primarily in the sprints but also in the long and triple jumps, and once in the 440 yards hurdles.
On nine occasions he featured in the top ten in the sprints. He was bronze medallist in the 440 yards at the Scottish Championships in 1963, East of Scotland champion at that distance in 1964 and third in those same championships over 220 yards in 1968.
In 1963 he gained an SAAA representative vest in the 440 in the then annual contest against Atalanta AC, the Scottish Universities graduates’ select. He was also successful at numerous open events and was a prolific points gatherer in inter-club contests and national league fixtures over his long career.
Educated at Daniel Stewart’s College in Edinburgh, on leaving school he joined the FPs athletic club and soon became one of its mainstays. Concentrating initially on the 100 yards, by 1963 he attained the much sought after “evens” time, ten seconds, the benchmark of quality sprinting then, and in 1964 dipped under “evens” with an excellent 9.9 seconds, only a tenth of a second outside the then Scottish national record, earning him fourth place in the annual rankings.
He had the classic sprinter’s build of the era: tall, slim and rangy, far removed from the typical modern sprinter’s bodybuilder physique.
With his long, raking stride that seemed to eat up the ground, he was an impressive sight in full flow. In assessing the quality of these times from a current perspective, it has to be kept in mind that they were achieved on grass or cinder tracks, that footwear, athlete support and coaching were more rudimentary then and that for Tom athletics was purely a part-time activity.
Other teammates of his in the Stewart’s FP club about this time included Gordon Shannon, British Junior 100 yards champion, Fraser Proven, Scottish hurdles champion and international, Scottish pole vault international Stewart Seale and sub-four-minute miler and British international Adrian Weatherhead.
As it became difficult to sustain individual FP inter-club contests, eight Edinburgh FP clubs, including Stewart’s, amalgamated to form Octavians AC, which soon became one of the country’s top clubs and for whom Tom became a regular representative.
Among his teammates there were internationals Jack Jones, a Trinity Academical, Gordon Rule and Tony Hogarth, both Herioters, Frank Dick, Royal High School FP and later to become British Athletics coaching guru, and Ian Grant and Peter Burgess, both Watsonians.
After Octavians disbanded in 1971 Tom joined Edinburgh AC, who he represented till he retired from the track in the mid-1970s.
Former British international athlete and Scottish Sportswoman of the Year Liz Sutherland recalled Tom fondly: “He was a lovely guy as well as being a very fine athlete. A few of us often trained alongside Tom and his Octavians teammates, usually under the watchful eye of well-known coach George Sinclair.”
Doubtless Tom derived a lot of his athletic genes from his father Ivan, a Scottish international athlete who in 1920 won the national 100 yards title and in 1921 came third behind the winner, one Eric Liddell. Also a noted rugby winger, he was a familiar figure trackside supporting his son.
Away from the track, after leaving school Tom did an accountancy course in Glasgow. Thereafter his working life was spent as an accountant with Edinburgh City Council, joining the then Edinburgh Corporation in 1959 till early retirement in 1994.
He played croquet and had fun as a member of the “Mindless Maniacs” skittles team at Murrayfield indoor sports club. But his main leisure interest was Celtic FC, which he supported man and boy, home and away, through “rain, hail and shine”, as friend and fellow fan Tony Gallagher put it delivering the eulogy at Tom’s funeral.
“He was ever-present at Celtic games all over the country and some abroad including the 1970 European Cup Final in Milan and the 2003 Uefa Final in Seville.
“For years he drove vice chairman Tom Devlin, a near neighbour, to and from games. He and I were fortunate to be among the 70 spectators permitted at the ‘closed doors’ European game at Parkhead against Atletico Madrid after trouble at the Rapid Vienna game. My family and I were very fond of Tom, who was a first-class gent.”
A single man most of his life, Tom enjoyed a rewarding relationship with partner Joy over the last five years. He was predeceased by his brothers Ivan and Charles, members of whose families survive him.