Below is a message from Dave Ainsworth about Tony Challis:
Subject: Sad News : Tony Challis R.I.P.
At 6am this morning (Sat) Tony Challis died in his Cambridge care home at the age of 89 (he’d have been 90 in November). Dementia had brought about his demise. He’d recently successfully passed a test for coronavirus. The staff at his Home had stayed up with him all night. Tony had been a care home resident for the past 4 years.
Tony had been a successful racing cyclist and runner before giving his all to race walking. Tony served in the Royal Air Force for 35 years with 19 different postings, being demobbed in the rank of Chief Technician ending with 4 years at RAF Coltishall near the Norfolk Broads. Tony and his wife Barbara liked for Norfolk as they had a caravan in that County where they enjoyed many pleasant times. Like many talented Royal Air Force race walkers Tony joined a now defunct Trowbridge & District AC. In competition Tony’s name is in many Open 7 Miles’ result sheets – always with early/mid 50 minutes’ timings – with sub-80 minutes’ National 10 Miles’ times also on an impressive record. On the track Tony was always prominent in Royal Air Force Championships over 2 Miles, then 3,000 metres as metrication kicked-in. Tony was responsible for a rule being imposed across the board in all RAF sports – this after an annual triangular Representative Match – Royal Air Force v Trowbridge v Bristol over 7 Miles at RAF Colerne in Wiltshire. In charge of the Royal Air Force team that day was Flying Officer Fry. For some reason (maybe even an administrative error) Tony wasn’t selected for the Royal Air Force team. As Tony belonged to Trowbridge AC and was then stationed locally, he turned out for his Civilian Club. Not only did Tony win this race, but Trowbridge pipped the RAF to win the match. Afterwards the proverbial “muck hit the fan”, following which the Air Ministry brought in a rule that no serving Royal Air Force personnel may appear in sporting teams against the RAF. Over a long period Tony gained selection for the Combined Forces who did well in annual Ryan Cup Representative Matches against the British Police & Civil Service over 10 miles in its heyday. A Combined Services team – actually it was 9 various RAF men + the late Lance Corporal Phil Thorne of the Hussars – who was also a Trowbridge AC star.
In civilian life Tony was resident in Great Shelford (on the Cambridge outskirts) becoming a member of Eastern Veterans AC (as then called). He held office at that Club, being an excellent and long-serving Newsletter Editor – then produced in booklet form, so reminding folks of the old “Athletics Weekly” format. In this role Tony was outstanding and readers couldn’t wait for it to drop through their letter boxes each month (no email distribution then). Every edition contained Tony’s Quiz – and each featured at least one race walking question. During his time as Editor Tony conducted a number of in-depth interviews with prominent East Anglian based athletes which produced many comprehensive articles. A number of race walkers were featured in these columns. In 2002 when Ron Wallwork commenced his highly popular Moulton Open 5 Miles (+ supporting events) Tony was a helper – in early years he sat at the numbers/pins tables and greeted arrivals. He was about for quite a few years before illness began to take its toll. Tony was fabled for his photographic skills at Moulton Fives – though many wished he hadn’t brought along his camera – for every year he caught a few competitors “up” as they say!
Tony was married to Barbara for many years – it would have been 70 in August. They were married, in Cambridge, when Tony was aged 20 and doing “square bashing” while on National Service at RAF Bridgnorth in Shropshire. Like many Service marriages in such times, it was held while the groom was on a weekend pass. For some, the last we saw of Tony was at a Cambridge funeral of 96 year old Dave Blyth (EVAC) – among mourners from Royal Air Force days and our athletics world. On that occasion Tony was a care home resident and turned up in a wheelchair – but chatting to so many athletics and ex-Servicemen really ignited great spirit in him, and we enjoyed seeing him look so well in such company. Dave served in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders before his RAF days and a Pipe Major in full ceremonial attire came to play at the service. The Army did their best, but could only get one from another Scottish Regiment (Black Watch). Tony thanked the piper for coming so far – only to be told he was on 6 months’ secondment to Cambridge City Centre Army Recruiting Office and could have walked it, but for carrying all his gear. Dave was one of Tony’s selected featured athletes in his Newsletter and after this service Tony wrote an account of this occasion for the publication he used to edit.
When notifying of Tony’s death,Barbara wished to thank those who’d kept in touch with him over these difficult years and among those specifically mentioned was were Cath & Peter Duhig and Dave Gulliver. To Barbara and the family we extend our condolence on a sad loss of one who gave so much to his chosen sport and will be missed.
If you wish to send a condolence card/message the address : Please send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
One favour : There is to be a funeral service, which in keeping with current Government advice will be restricted to family members only. Barbara would like to have read out a few tributes from former colleagues and rivals alike from our race walking world – which had meant also much to Tony over decades. You could put such words in with your condolence card/message.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
PS While circulating, we regret to inform you that Felicity, wife of another former RAF race walker (like so many RAF types, ex-Trowbridge & District AC) Dereham-based Dave Browning, has passed-on.
On a good news theme, soon Lincolnshire-based George Towers and his wife Joyce will celebrate 66 years of marriage. George was an IAAF Race International Panel Walking Judge, and appeared for Leicester WC
and the Royal Air Force. The date is July 31st. George organised our 1981 RWA National 50K Championships at Sleaford when 100 started – thse were the days. if you want to note his address for a card bearer the day it’s : 3 Stray Green, Ruskington, SLEAFORD. Lincolnshire. NG34 9HY.