Tuesday, May 16, 2017

V 7 N. 31 Terry Tobacco Lit Them Up

Terry Tobacco
     With a name like Terry Tobacco, you better have some qualities about you that can add to your reputation in a positive way.  I first heard of Terry during a conversation in Eugene, OR last year.  A fellow from Vancouver, having learned I was living on Vancouver Island and writing a track blog, asked if I had ever heard of Terry Tobacco.  I thought he was referring to a brand of chew, snuff, or maybe a cigarette that had been produced on the Island.  Not so.  He was talking about  the Cumberland Comet, a sprinter from the mining village of Cumberland, British Columbia, a man who ran for the University of Washington in the 1950s, a fellow who represented Canada at two Olympic Games, a college boy who was two time 440 champion in the Pacific Coast Conference, and beat Otis Davis in the NCAA meet in 1959.  How could I not know of Terry Tobacco?

     The name comes from a line of Italian brothers who emigrated with their cousin from the Piedmont in Northern Italy.  Two ended up in Cumberland, and another went to Renton, Washington. One of those guys was Terry's grandfather.  Cumberland was a tough mining town  at the foot of the Beaufort Range, 150 miles north of the provincial capital of Victoria, BC.  It was a three tiered village of ethnic laborers, the Europeans, the Chinese, and the Japanese.  It had been founded by a Scottish mining baron, James Dunsmuir, who treated miners, immigrants, and labor unions with equal distain.  His mines had the highest death rate in the world, 23 deaths per million tonnes of mined coal. The rate at the time in all of North America was only  6 deaths per million tonnes.   Dunsmuir's name still appears along the east coast of Vancouver Island, on street signs and monuments, wherever he had an interest to extract coal and boss the locals.
Cumberland, BC from the air

Dunsmuir St. , Cumberland  

Mine Cottage

     Terry grew up in the village where there was a school but not much in the way of sports. He did have an outlet on the basketball court and was good enough to get a scholarhip offer at Oregon.  He built his strength and stamina not in a gym or being driven to little league practice by a helicopter mom, but by lugging provisions up into the hills to a lumber camp where his father worked.   He found if he ran with the provisions, his rate of pay increased.  Interval training and progressive loading can come to the athlete in a variety of ways.   If kids could find jobs, the money went toward putting food on the family's table.  The mine graciously left a pile of coal for cooking and heating behind the mine shacks where families struggled to survive the winters.  Cumberland even today is significantly colder than the two nearby towns of Courtenay and Comox, because of its higher elevation.  The town had plenty of colorful characters including 'Two Shift Bob' and 'Miss Meat', the local 'working lady' whose day job was teaching school.  Today the town is still a very special place and in the process of re-inventing itself.  The mines have closed, but people still work in the logging industry.  It is not unheard of for a kid to carry a set of brass knuckles.  But Cumberland is also becoming a center of cyclo-tourism with one of the best mountain biking circuits in Canada.  Names of some of the trails include Bear Buns,  Buggered Pig, Short 'n Curly, Spanker, Numbskulls Miners, Kitty Litter, Space Nugget, Resurrection, and Entrails. It has a craft brewery, a fly fishing shop, and two good bars, the Waverly (Sunday bluegrass brunches) and the Cumberland Hotel, coffee shops, art galleries, a bakery, and a deli.  For the runner there are two major mountain races, The Cumby (23Km and 50Km) in the Spring, and in the Fall, the 11Km Perseverance.  It also has a great Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race (MOMAR) each year, and a 24 hour Enduro.   See video of last year's race.   MOMAR

     On May 24, the Queen's Birthday,  there were celebrations, and the miners sponsored games and events for the kids of Cumberland.  They had running races that paid five dollars to win.  Terry cleaned up in the kids' races and earned fifteen dollars when they added in the broad jump.  The same day he decided to move up in the age groups and collected another twenty dollars.  That's when he knew he had a talent.   There was no track, and  little to no coaching at that time, but by age 15, Terry found himself at the provincial schools championships,  that's the state meet in U.S. parlance.  He came second, as a team, to Oak Bay HS, by a quarter of a point.  Oak Bay had 18 kids at the meet.  Years later he would be a teacher and coach at Oak Bay.

     He gradually got some coaching from Bruce Humber in Victoria and earned his way as a 17 year old to the Canadian national championships in 1954 where a team would be selected to compete in the Empire/Commonwealth Games to be held later that  summer in Vancouver .  Humber had represented Canada as a sprinter in the the Berlin Olympics.   It was Humber who saw the potential as a quartermiler in Terry and suggested he go for that distance at the Canadian Championships.

     Terry showed up at the nationals  in a pair of old soccer shorts and a tee shirt and spikes he had bought out of his savings from working in a gas station.  "They were a pair of British shoes with permanent spikes by G.T. Law, supposedly handmade.  You sent an outline of your foot and they would custom fit them.  Had to order them from Eaton's department store."   In those days in the remote areas of Canada, people did their shopping from mail order catlogues.  Not unlike online shopping today.
GT Law Spikes currently on Ebay for 1500 Pounds
     Not only did Tobacco show up for the championships as a 440 runner, he won the event.  Terry went into international competition not yet having progressed through college track ranks, although by then  he was being heavily recruited by colleges all over the US.    In the semis at Vancouver, he had the fastest time, and in the finals he finished third in 47.6.  He also won a silver as the anchor for the Canadian 4x440 relay team.   Not too  shabby for a kid from a mining community up in the hills of Vancouver Island.  At those Games he also got to witness the Miracle Mile between Roger Bannister and John Landy.  For these performances, he was honored as the male athlete of the year in British Columbia.

     Terry would choose the University of Washington to run his college track.  Why Washington?  "I had a girlfriend who was attending the University of British Columbia, and I wanted to stay near her."   

      Percy Hendershott, was assistant coach then.  Percy was father of Jon Hendershott, long time chief correspondent for Track & Field News.   As mentioned earlier, Terry won the Pacific Coast Conference 440 twice.  At the NCAA meet in 1959 he finished third.

                                        1959 NCAA 440 yards
               1. Eddie Southern (Texas) Sr ........................46.4
               2. Chuck Carlson (Colorado)Sr ....................46.5
               3. Terry Tobacco' (Washington)Sr ................46.6
               4. Mal Spence' (Arizona State)Sr .................46.8
               5. Walt Johnson (North Carolina Central)Sr 47.2
               6. DeLoss Dodds (Kansas State)Sr ..............47.3
               7. Otis Davis (Oregon) Sr ............................47.3
               8. Mel Barnwell (Pitt)...................................61.2

     Terry's first of two Olympic Games was at Melbourne in 1956.  He made it to the semis in the 400 meters but failed to advance through to the finals.  As he explained it, " I was in lane 7 and Lou Jones was outside of me in lane 8.  Jones had recently set the world record at 400 meters in  45.2.   I thought I would just have to near Jones to qualifiy which is what I did.  However we didn't know that Jones had been injured and wasn't up to par.  I stayed with him but it wasn't as fast as we needed to be going.  By the time I realized that, the field was ahead of me as we were coming off the last turn, it was too late to move up into a qualifying position."    Jones won the heat in 47.4, John Salisbury of Great Britain (47.4) and Ivan Rodriguez of Puerto Rico (47.5) got in ahead of Terry who closed in 47.7.    That summer (Australian)  Terry ran both relays.  The 4x100 team was eliminated in an event that only sent six teams to the finals, and then they placed fifth in the 4x400 in 3:10.2.   Terry's semi-final leg (45.3) was his all time best.
In action at Cal Berkeley

Getty Images

     At the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff he was a bronze medallist again in the 440.  He was also on the team that finished 4th in the 4x440.

     In 1960 he again represented Canada in the Rome Olympics, making it to the semis in the 400 and ran both relays which were eliminated in the semis.   At this gathering Terry was well  off his A game.   He had spent the year in grad school with almost no competition.  He was married and had a young baby as well.  Prepping for the Olympics was not as high a priority as in the past.  When he got to Rome he had not raced in the previous five weeks.

      One of the stories he likes to tell about Rome was going to see Cassius Clay in the heavyweight gold medal bout.  Tickets were scarce and one Canadian athlete somehow secured a press pass.  He went into a lavatory and handed it out to another athlete through a window.  This was repeated until many of the Canadian team were able to get into the stadium.

      After the Rome  Olympics he settled into a life of teaching physical education in the Victoria area and coaching basketball.  By then he had set aside his track career for good.   One of his children, Judy, was a national level athlete running 400 meters for Cal Berkeley.  Unfortunately she was hobbled by injury much of her career.

     In 2006 he returned to Australia for the 50th anniversary of the games with a number of those Canadian Olympians who represented Canada at Melbourne.  He reunited with John Landy whom he had met those many years ago.  "Landy had tried to organize a touring team to visit Africa after Melbourne, and I was invited.  But the tour fell through.  But Landy remembered me when we got there and we were able to have some time together."    He remembers Landy saying about Bannister, "I could have run him 100 times and maybe have  beaten him once."

     "I also got to know Bill Bowerman when I was in the states.  I had a chance through Doug Clement my Canadian teammate and later best man to invest in Nike in the early days but didn't have the $300 at the time."

     Other memories that came up in our conversation included his races against Tom Courtney, the 1956 800 meters gold medallist.   "We ran about 3 or 4 times against each other at 400 meters. He beat me everytime by about 0.2 sec.  It didn't matter if I went out hard or easy, sprinted the back stretch or saved a lot for the finish, he always came up and got me at the end.?"
Terry Tobacco Today

Terry and the Author

      Today he lives on a seven acre plot in the countryside north of Victoria where he raises  300 chickens each year to qualify as a farm and avoid the higher residential taxes. In the summers of those teaching years he was also a commercial fisherman catching salmon and halibut off the north coast of Vancouver Island. His next door neighbor is Burton Cummings of The Guess Who.

     Terry Tobacco was inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

Below is an exceptionally well done video of his career that went with his induction ceremony.

Terry Tobacco, the Cumberland Comet  Click Here.

by George Brose


Great story on Terry Tobacco. Eddie Southern lives here in Dallas now. Not in the best of health, but I guess that is true with all. Sorry to hear about Al and look forward to more info as I do not see it on Web.


Dear George

I remember Terry Tobacco well

As a fledgling 440 man at the 1959 NCAA Meet at Lincoln, Nebraska, I made it to the semi-finals in the 440 as a greenie sophomore with a 47.9 to my credit. 
So, I got to know "of" Terry Tobacco at that meet and, from voracious reading of Track and Field News
by me and teammates, Jerry Ashmore, and Doug Wuggazer in the coach's office at WMU

Give Terry my regards!

John Bork

Thank you for those Canadian memories from so long ago.  My team mate, Bill Crothers  followed Terry as Canada's best.  I saw Tobacco in the 1960 Olympic trials.  I grew up in a Canadian Mining town (Timmons) in Northern Ontario

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