Obituary: Ken Ballantyne, athlete and insurance executive

Ken Ballantyne, athlete. Born: 15 October 1940 in Kalimpong, India. Died: 10 November 2016 in Kelso, aged 76

Kenneth Ballantyne Obituary Pictures
Kenneth Ballantyne Obituary Pictures

Ken Ballantyne, who has died aged 76, was one of Scotland’s leading international athletes of the 1960s and thereafter a prominent official with his club Edinburgh Southern Harriers (ESH).Good enough to figure in the national ranking lists each year from 1959 to 1971 over a range of distances from half mile to six miles, his speciality was the mile, in which he was Scottish champion in 1964. His outstanding performance came in 1965 at Motspur Park in Surrey, when he ran the fastest time ever by a home-based Scot, 4m. 1.1sec, narrowly missing the holy grail of the 4-minute mile.Ken’s time would remain the best till Hugh Barrow shaved 1/10th of a second off it three years later. He also represented Scotland in eight international contests between 1961 and 1966.

But Ken’s talents were not restricted to the track as he also excelled at cross country and road running. With his ESH team he won three gold medals as well as bronze and silvers in the National Cross Country Championships. He shone in the famous Edinburgh to Glasgow road relay, winning a coveted gold medal in 1969 and several lesser medals. On three occasions he recorded fastest stage times, including the prestigious second one in 1966 when he beat leading runners Barrow, Andy Brown and Alistair Wood.

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Once retired from competition, he joined the ESH committee, becoming their British League assistant team manager before taking over from Jimmy Smart in 1982. During his involvement the club enjoyed a period of considerable success throughout the UK, competing with distinction in the first division of the British League and in 1975 winning the British Gold Cup.

Born at Kalimpong near Darjeeling in India, Ken’s father was manager of a tea planting estate, owned by the Duncan company, where he and his wife had lived for several years. The family enjoyed a fairly privileged lifestyle with house servants and a nanny who helped look after Ken and his sister Aileen. Aged six he was sent here to be educated, initially at Blairmore prep school near Huntly where his running talent first emerged.He then attended Strathallan school and won the Scottish Schools’ Championship mile in 1958.The following year he won the Scottish junior mile title, setting a championship best, smashing the previous record by almost five seconds,equivalent to about 30 yards.

Taking up a position as trainee manager with the Commercial Union insurance company in its George Street office in Edinburgh he joined ESH, which was to play a large part in his life.He trained initially at a number of venues including old Meadowbank and Inverleith Park with teammates Ian Mackenzie and future Olympians Fergus Murray and Donald McGregor. Like many at the time he was self coached, learning training methods from books.

When he ran his 1965 record mile during a British Milers’ Club event he improved significantly on his previous best.The opposition included four sub four-minute milers and there is no doubt that had he been exposed more frequently to that level of competition he also would haave breached the magical barrier. His win four days later in the invitation mile at the prestigious Sward Trophy meeting at Chiswick supports that contention, as does his win a week later for a Scottish Select against the Army at Pitreavie.

In September 1967 Ken married Doreen Hamilton, originally from the Penrith area, whom he had met socially in Edinburgh and together they enjoyed a long and happy marriage, bringing up daughters Julia and Nicola.

Appointments as branch manager at Hawick, Kelso and Berwick followed until he took early retirement from Commercial Union. He then joined Lowland Insurance Brokers in Berwick, where he was particularly valued for his agricultural insurance expertise, becoming a director of the company until it was bought over by a national concern.

Through his work he was well known among the farming community in the Borders and having lived mostly in Kelso for the past 40 years played a full part in the life of the town, being a former chair of the Round Table, Probus and the 41 Club. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of Kelso rugby club and indeed, attended their game a week before his death.

Unfortunately his quality of life latterly was marred by ill health requiring surgical intervention and regular medication, particularly cruel for one who had been so fit and active. He remained positive and was much respected and well liked by people from all walks of life.

His friend and fellow athlete Ian Mackenzie commented: ”Ken was a very affable and friendly man who did lots of good work for the various organisations he was involved with, always giving 100 per cent in all he did. As a runner he was a seriously hard trainer and one of the very best athletes of his time.”

Despite his achievements , Ken was extremely modest, with many of the large turnout at his funeral unaware of his sporting pedigree.

He is survived by his wife, daughters and sister.