RON WHITTAM 1931 – 2016
I cannot write about “old Ron” without giving a brief history about the Club, as both he and the gym were entwined for many years.
Ron was born on the 2nd October 1931 in the London Hospital, Whitechapel. He first attended the Club in 1947 at the age of 16. At that time the gym was in an old outbuilding in the playground, where the school-keeper’s house is now. The gym transferred to its present site in 1950 when Jack Brender (the then Instructor) decided to utilise the empty space.
The gym in those days was primarily a weightlifting and bodybuilding gym with many strong, fit and active men in attendance. The gym has gone through many changes and personnel with Instructors such as: Jack Brender, Ken Marshall, Jimmy Savage, Bill Woods, George Manners, Jimmy Beaching, Ronnie Griffiths, Martin Bass, Pat Atteridge, Mark Welch, Heather Allison, Giles Greenwood, Abio Hamza and our newest addition Sauro Gardenal. Amongst the above were and are, some great Lifters and good servants to the Club.
The one constant who linked all of them, was Ron Whittam. Whether it was going with Ronnie Griffiths and myself to the British Champs in the 70s with Gary Peck (Lightweight British Junior Champion), and running around parts of Birmingham with him to make weight, or watching Steve Zetolofsky smash a 380kg squat at Digbeth Town Hall to silence the Northern Lifters’ fan club, when taking the British title from Eddy Kirshaw, or sitting with me when we saw George Manners press 319lbs at Hornsey Town Hall and screaming like two school kids – He was there! On that day the winner was supposed to be picked to go to the Munich Olympics. (George wasn’t picked, but that’s a story for another day).
From weightlifting Comps at Crystal Palace to powerlifting Comps at The Green, Ron supported the Club and its Lifters. As a young man he Lifted for Bethnal Green and in 2011 BAWLA (now BL) invited him to collect an award for being the longest serving member. He collected a number of awards and certificates from Patrick Atteridge for taking part in the old British Weightlifting gradings, the two hand curl being his favourite. He would always volunteer when needed and even in his 80s he would still be the first to help me with the chairs and get the gym set up prior to competitions.
His enthusiasm for training was incredible, staying with him throughout his life. When I first attended the gym along with Ronnie Griffiths in 1970, old Ron would be training – “no talking”, non-stop 8 – 10 exercises. If, at any time you tried to talk to him or interrupt his flow you would receive the following “don’t bother me I’m training”. Over time, when he realised that both myself and young Ron were here to stay, we became friends, passing on wisdom and stories to us for the next 45 years. His attitude to training was unlike many of the modern trainers. As long as you were training with weights, it didn’t matter whether you were a weightlifter, powerlifter, body builder or a generic weight trainer; keeping fit, strong, active and healthy was the goal!
He loved to lay in the sun and his yearly jaunts to Malta would result in him coming back the colour of finely polished mahogany (no fears about the ozone for our Ron). He was a magnificent swimmer, both in the sea and swimming pool, and on many occasions he swam with my children to raise money for his favourite charities. He joined the Serpentine Swimming Club in 2000 and became a favourite of all who met him. Even in his 80s, he would still be training 4 times a week. Tuesday and Thursday at the gym and swimming Wednesday and Saturday at the Serpentine – READ THAT AGAIN – Weights Tuesday and Thursday – Swim Wednesday and Saturday.
I saw him at the gym on the Thursday and the swimmers saw him at the Serpentine on the following Saturday, just a few days before he passed away. That was Ron!
For 20 years he had been a member of LEBA (London Ex-Boxers Assoc) and spent many happy hours chatting with his mates. For me it was a pleasure talking to someone who could tell me about all the old famous strongmen and body builders; Reg Park, Rueb Martin etc, who he had seen, as well as the numerous wrestling and boxing matches he had attended in and around the East End in the late 40s, 50s and 60s. He was a living link to the past. He spent all of his life within a mile of where he was born. In 1944 he was bombed out of his uncle’s pub at Old Bethnal Green Road (his uncle being killed by a V1 rocket). He then moved to a prefab in Ion Square (now Gardens) off Hackney Road and when new flats were built, he moved to Wellington Row where he spent the rest of his life.
Ron was always positive, enjoyed life, did his own thing and loved every minute of it. A good life and an example to us all.