Ron Whittam Obituary

RON WHITTAM 1931 – 2016

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Ron in 2014

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.

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The Bethnal Green physique lads, 1952. Ron is second from right

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.

RIP Ron

Martin

Bethnal Green Legend: Patrick Atteridge

Veteran BGWLC weightlifter Patrick Atteridge is the second Bethnal Green lifter to be profiled in our Legends pages. Pat has lifted at Bethnal Green since 1972, and coached weightlifting there until 2007. He still visits the gym regularly to train, and occasionally coach a select group of masters weightlifters.

Great Britain vs Morocco, 1975

Great Britain vs Morocco, 1975

How long have you been lifting, and what made you decide to start?

I got into weight training initially after contracting at blood disease. When I came out of hospital I only weighed 6 stone and wanted to build myself up. I started training at a gym in Peckham in 1970, and in 1971 coach Ray Cornish suggested I try weightlifting. In 1972 I started lifting at Bethnal Green under coach George Manners. My first competition was the same year, where I won the Home Counties Juniors, & qualified for the British Juniors. Unfortunately I bombed out of that competition, but went on to win the under-23s later on that year.

British Masters, Glasgow, 1999

British Masters, Glasgow, 1999

Tell us some of your competition history

I lifted for Great Britain at 2 internationals in the 1970s – GB vs Denmark in 1973, and GB vs Morocco in 1975.

I stopped working in 1975 to try for the 1976 Montreal Olympics, but unfortunately wasn’t selected. Then I stopped lifting altogether due to family commitments. But in 1978 I came back to Bethnal Green and began coaching.

Greater London Championships, 1987

Greater London Championships, 1987

In 1997 I started competing again, in the masters division. I won gold at the World Masters Games 2002 in Melbourne, and at the European Masters in 2007. I’ve taken 13 other silver & bronze medals in World & European championships.

You’ve been successful as a coach as well as a lifter. Who are some of the greats you’ve coached?

I both trained & taught weightlifting in Dalston from 1978-2001, and coached at Bethnal Green until 2007. At the moment I teach weightlifting in Hackney.

Giles Greenwood, Commonwealth Games medallist.

Denise Ramsay-Overall, Olympic athlete, representing Trinidad and Tobago.

Juliana Auguste, who lifted at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Dyana Altenor, Jennifer Maysmor-Gee, Sonia Stevens & Heather Allison – all top-ranked British seniors & masters, with a clutch of metals and titles between them.

Karl Grant, who lifted at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

Mark Welch, Andy Joy and my brother John Atteridge, all British seniors & masters.

World Masters, 2003

World Masters, 2003

Name some lifters you admire

I’ve always thought that with enough training, I could be as good as anyone else. I looked up to other lifters, but believed I could be as good as anyone if I worked hard enough.

Two weightlifters I took inspiration from were Jimmy Beeching, and of course Eddie Pengelly.

European Masters 2005

European Masters 2005

What are your personal bests, and your favourite lift?

In training, and in the 60kg class (as it was then) – 155kg  back squat, 105kg bench (without any specific training), 205kg deadlift (again, without specific training), 92.5kg snatch and 122.5kg clean & jerk.

In competition, 90kg snatch and 120kg clean & jerk.

My favourite lift is the clean and jerk.

Pat and Henry at BGWLC today

Pat and Henry at BGWLC today

What do you like about training at Bethnal Green?

Originally, the standard of lifters was very high, so you were encouraged to improve by the people around. I always felt I was playing catch-up & was dragged up by the standard of the others. You had to be outstanding to stand out among the lifters at Bethnal Green.

Today, I think the gym has a lovely atmosphere, and it encourages a feeling like you want to achieve among the others. I still like to see a good lift performed well, and you’ll see that at Bethnal Green.

World Masters 2012

World Masters 2012

Bethnal Green legend: Ernie Parkes

As BGWLC has been open for 88 years, many weightlifting & powerlifting legends have passed through its doors, and we wanted to profile them to create a record of their achievements. Where better to begin, then, than with Ernie Parkes – a true Bethnal Green legend and member of the club since 1966.

Ernie began his lifting career with weightlifting and traditional feats of strength, before moving into masters powerlifting, both equipped and unequipped. His crowning achievement (so far!) has been taking the IPF Masters 4 world record unequipped deadlift in the -83kg class this year, with an amazing 210kg.

Ernie Parkes's world record 210kg deadlift

Ernie Parkes’s world record 210kg deadlift, 2014. Photo credit: SBD (Wrong credit?)

Let’s hear from Ernie in his own words:

How long have you been lifting?
I started lifting around 1965. I was a late starter having joined the army at the age of 17. In time I went through the Army School of Physical Training and qualified as a PT instructor, during which time I did some weight training which was a good grounding for what was to follow. So that was about 50 years ago – pains me to say that.

How long have you been lifting at Bethnal Green?
I first joined Bethnal Green in 1966. I trained there until about the mid 1970’s when I moved out into Essex. Came back to train there about 5 years ago when I decided to compete at masters powerlifting.

What are your personal best lifts?
Squat: 230kg, bench: 155kg, deadlift: 265kg
Snatch: 125kg, clean and jerk: 160kg

I also standing pressed 125kg at 75kg.

There was also a British record dumbell swing of 75kg at 75kg bodyweight. I have in the past set a number of British records but will not bore you with the details.

Ernie with a 75kg dumbbell swing at 75kg bodyweight, 1977

Ernie with a 75kg dumbbell swing at 75kg bodyweight, 1977

What’s your favourite lift?
My favourite lift used to be the standing press, which was deleted from official competition after the 1972 Olympic Games. Nowadays I’d have to say it’s the deadlift.

Name some other lifters you admire & why
When I was younger I was a great admirer of Waldemar Bazanowski of Poland. He was a former World and Olympic Champion in the 67.5kg class and one of the few who still used the split style on the clean and jerk.

Also George Newton whom I trained with at Bethnal Green, another great exponent of the split style on both the snatch and the clean and jerk.

What made you decide to start lifting?
My grandfather was a champion weightlifter many years ago, as was his brother George, probably better known as a strongman. He performed his act at the London Palladium on the annual Health and Strength show in 1952, a big occasion in those days. My grandfather was an instructor at Bethnal Green in the early 1930’s and George would sometimes train there in the late 1960’s.

Ernie with a 77.5kg one-arm snatch, 1981

Ernie with a 77.5kg one-arm snatch, 1981

What do you feel has been your biggest achievement in lifting so far?
Longevity and perhaps competing in the 1970 Commonwealth Games. I had a few setbacks in the early 1970’s and came close to giving it up but as is evident, I am still going. In sport, as in life, perseverance is paramount.

What do you enjoy about lifting at Bethnal Green?
It’s a place where people can focus on competitive lifting, impossible in places such as Fitness First and others of that ilk. It accommodates all ages, male and female, and everyone is given the same level of encouragement.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in starting weightlifting or powerlifting?
Enjoy what you are doing, don’t worry about what other people are doing, just do the best that YOU can do. And if you want to compete you will not find a better place to train than Bethnal Green.

Want to train alongside Ernie? Join us at BGWLC!

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