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Doctor, diplomat, athlete ... a look at the life of Arthur Wint

Published:Sunday | October 30, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Arthur Wint's place in history was assured when the six-foot, five-inch quarter-miler became the first Jamaican to win an Olympic gold medal at the 1948 Games in Manchester, England.

A new biography by his daughter and eldest child Valerie, reveals rarely documented aspects of this athletic giant's life. That he was a respected country doctor, reluctant diplomat and for many years kept a tragic, personal incident away from family and close friends.

The book, The Longer Run: A Daughter's Story of Arthur Wint, was released in August by Ian Randle Publishers. Though his Olympic achievements are inevitably covered, most of the 166 pages are dedicated to Wint's domestic and professional life as husband, father of three daughters, and surgeon in Britain and rural Jamaica.

Valerie Wint also reflects on the days leading up to his death in 1992 at age 72.

In an interview with Arts and Education last week, the author said she began work on The Longer Run more than 10 years ago. She wanted to show that there was more to her father than being Jamaica's first Olympic gold medallist or member of the legendary 4X400 metres team which won that event at the 1952 Games in Helsinki in 1952.

Wint accomplishes that through interviews with people who knew her father intimately: his widow, Norma, brother Lloyd and his great rival and teammate Herb McKenley. It was also an opportunity to revisit her own relationship with the "old man".

"I realised something that I had known all along, which was how much he was away from my life because of his work as a doctor," she said. "From the age of 13, I never lived with him and that all came together while I did my research."

Arthur Wint was born in Plowden, Manchester in May 1920, the second of five children for Reverend John Wint, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife Hilda. He attended Calabar High School, but eventually moved to Excelsior where he excelled in sports, especially athletics.

His first major success as an athlete came at the 1938 Pan Am Games in Panama, where he won gold for 800 metres. Three years later, the gangly Jamaican's future was threatened by a horrific accident. While working as an intern at the titles office, Wint accidentally shot and killed his 30 year-old co-worker Ida Forbes. He had found the cashier's gun while searching for documents, and playfully pointed it at Forbes not knowing the weapon was loaded.

unfortunate incident

At his trial, Wint was represented by Norman Manley who successfully pleaded for leniency, saying the unfortunate incident resulted from "playful" folly. Wint was given two years' probation.

Valerie Wint said the shooting was never discussed in her close-knit family.

"I hesitated strongly about putting that in, but I realised that it was a major, pivotal point in his life," she said.

After retiring from athletics in the early 1950s, Wint studied medicine in Britain where his first child was born. Returning to Jamaica, he lived in Kingston but his happiest times were spent in Lucea, Hanover where he served as doctor-in-waiting for several years.

He was not enamoured with his post as Jamaica's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and was relieved when his four-year tour of duty ended in 1978.

"He thought it wasn't his calling, he wasn't one for pomp and circumstance and didn't like the political restrictions," his daughter disclosed.