Obituary: Bert McFall, former athlete

Born: 5 December, 1932, in Uphall, West Lothian. Died: 4 January, 2016, in Livingston, West Lothian, aged 83
Lifelong track, road and cross country runner. Picture: ContributedLifelong track, road and cross country runner. Picture: Contributed
Lifelong track, road and cross country runner. Picture: Contributed

Bert McFall was a very well known,popular and highly respected figure in Scotland’s athletics community for whom running was not so much a sport as a way of life.

He had a deep and enduring passion for it from childhood days until a hip operation seven years ago brought an end to a long and successful career.During that time he won medals at district and national level on the track,on the road and over the country,enjoying particular success latterly as a veteran or “masters” athlete

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Bert was accomplished over a wide range of distances, from the mile to half marathon, and represented Edinburgh Southern Harriers, latterly Edinburgh Athletic Club, with distinction.

In 1961, he was ranked 4th in Scotland at 3,000m steeplechase, while in 1963 he won the East of Scotland title at that event and over several years figured prominently in the national ranking lists for that as well as the mile. While he enjoyed track, his favourite disciplines were cross country and road. One of the highlights of his cross country career was being a member of the Edinburgh Southern Harriers team which in 1964, at Hamilton Racecourse, won the National Cross Country Championship for the first time. This was a highly sought after title and one which had hitherto eluded the Edinburgh club in their 67-year existence. In the individual race Bert finished a highly creditable 16th out of a high calibre field of more than 300. He also assisted his teammates to silver and bronze medals in the Championships on four other occasions, while achieving very respectable finishes in the individual event.

On the road he enjoyed success in the prestigious Edinburgh to Glasgow relay race, again for the Harriers.In 1961 and ’62 he helped win silver medals and bronze in 1964.He always ran the 3rd leg, over his “home” territory, collecting the baton at the east end of Broxburn and running through Uphall to wester Dechmont, where he handed it on.This was a demanding 4½ mile stretch, Bert being the fastest over this leg in the 1962 race.

As a veteran/masters athlete he achieved numerous distinctions. He won the Scottish cross country title several times and often represented Scottish Veteran Harriers in the British and Irish championships, assisting the team to silver and bronze medals while once earning an individual silver and finishing first Scot frequently. On the track he won the Andy Forbes Memorial 10km. race in 2000.Well into his sixties, he ran excellent times for the half marathon.

Although very competitive, above all he loved running for its own sake. He particularly enjoyed going for ten-mile runs in the Bathgate Hills near his home, taking in Cairnpapple, Cockleroi and Binny Craig en route. Another favourite venue was Almondell Park, where the steps up to the viaduct provided testing training.After his hip operation, he turned his attention to the gym, becoming a regular visitor to Broxburn Sports Centre where his competitive streak continued. A few years ago the gym hosted an open competition replicating the Empire State Building Challenge, a run up its 102 levels, on a Stairmaster machine. Much to everyone’s astonishment, Bert in his late seventies, won.Aged 80, under monitored conditions there, he completed 10km on an exercise bike at an average speed of 22mph.

Born and brought up at Roman Camp near Uphall, where his Irish father worked in the shale industry, Bert enjoyed a happy childhood. Running to school in Broxburn nurtured his love of the sport which would play such a huge part in his life. Initially he worked as an engineer with Wimpey Construction before and after National Service in the RAF Regiment in Germany, later joining Parson and Peebles in Broxburn.

Aged 30 he changed career, becoming an insurance agent for Pearl Assurance company in the Broxburn/Uphall area. In this role he was well known, highly trusted and much liked in the local community, often referred to affectionately as “Bert the insurance man”, with many clients becoming friends.

Thanks to his social conscience, some years ago he set up a successful It’s a Knock Out series of competitions in Broxburn, based on the successful TV programme, to give local youngsters an activity and keep them off the street.

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A man of strong religious faith he regularly attended his local Roman Catholic church. Away from running, his interests included gardening, growing tomatoes,jam making, cooking and fine wines.He was a man of immense energy and goodwill and according to widow Nancy “filled every second of every day. He was always positive and saw the best in everyone.”

Former Scottish marathon champion Colin Youngson described him as “A real gentleman, interesting company and a very good and respected athlete.”

Bert’s first marriage ended in divorce. In 1982 he wed Nancy Cumiskey, with whom he enjoyed more than 33 happy years. She survives Bert, along with children Stephen, Vivienne and Elizabeth from his first marriage, stepson Kevin and four grandchildren.