OBITUARY - BARRY VARTY (COMRADES NUMBER 616)

Few people, if any, have guarded and developed the history and traditions of the Comrades Marathon with such tenacity and zeal as he has. For 39 years, he played a pivotal role in documenting and recording pieces of Comrades history and contributing in his own unique way to The Ultimate Human Race, having been one of only eight Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) members to serve such length of service to the race.

Barry Varty not only ran the Comrades Marathon; he lived for it. The 82-year old runner, administrator, historian, volunteer and avid Comrades supporter was the holder of Permanent Number 616, having successfully completed 28 Comrades Marathons under that race number.

He ran his first Comrades in 1970, earning 2 Silver, 21 Bronze and 5 Vic Clapham medals, only two races short of being inducted onto the Comrades Triple Green Number roll of honour, something which Barry greatly aspired to.

He ran his fastest Comrades in 1973 in a time of 7:43 with his slowest Comrades of 11:55:44 in 2011 which was also the last Comrades Marathon that he successfully finished.

His successive Comrades attempts were either DNF (did not finish), DNS (did not start) due to not meeting the Comrades Marathon’s strict qualifying criteria; and in some instances, finishing after the 12-hour cut-off, which does not constitute an official Comrades finish.

Barry ran for the Bluff Athletic Club for the first five years of his Comrades running career and thereafter joined the Yellowwood Park Athletic Club to which he remained a loyal member.

He served various roles at the Comrades Marathon; having been a former chairperson, long serving board member, historian, elder, race organising committee member, CMA Life Member and CMA Heritage and Traditions committee member. His was clearly a life dedicated to the preservation and upkeep of the Comrades Marathon, something that was greatly admired by CMA members, staff, officials and volunteers alike.

CMA Chairperson, Mqondisi Ngcobo said, “Barry Varty truly served the Comrades Marathon with passion, purpose and commitment. He played a pivotal role in maintaining the rich heritage and traditions of the race and going further to hold such vast intellectual wisdom of The Ultimate Human Race, that we are poorer for the loss of this Comrades stalwart. He certainly ran a good race, having been appreciated and admired by so many.”

Mqondisi adds, “True to his love for Comrades, Barry attended our Annual General meeting in November, even though he was clearly not well, having been ill for some time, but such was his dedication to The Ultimate Human Race. His passion, determination and grit resonate with us at this sad moment when we recall his own ethos and the value that he added to our great race. We will miss his contributions to the CMA. May he rest in peace.”

Former CMA Chairperson, Cheryl Winn says, “We are deeply saddened by Barry’s passing. Our thoughts and well wishes are with his family. We wish his wife Barbara, their children and grandchildren strength during this difficult time. We remain eternally grateful to Barry for his considerable contribution to the Comrades Marathon and the way he passionately guarded the history, traditions and very foundations of this beautiful race. We will miss him greatly.”

CMA Heritage & Traditions Committee Chair, Isaac Ngwenya says, “It’s so sad to learn of the passing of our most passionate and supportive elder. Barry held vast amounts of wisdom and experience which we were always able to count on. He shared willingly and selflessly. The Heritage & Traditions Committee looked to Barry for guidance on many issues. We will miss his input, his determined spirit, his love for life, his attention to detail, his passion for photography even while running the race and many other wonderful things about this great man. May his family and friends get strength and comfort from knowing how many lives Barry has touched. We will remember him fondly.”

CMA Race Director, Rowyn James says, “Part of my mantra and passion for the Comrades Marathon is the preservation of the history, ethos and traditions of this great race. This is where Barry was my mentor and “go to” person for his incredible institutional wisdom and knowledge that he possessed. The same applies to Barry’s wealth of statistical knowledge concerning the past race history and he was always eager to share this. Barry, I sure will miss our robust discussions about Comrades present and future and promise that I will continue to drive and instil the values that were so near and dear to your heart for as long as I’m a part of the greatest footrace around”.

Comrades Brand Ambassador at Large, Mark Bloomfield says, “Barry Varty epitomized Comrades for me. I remember our first meeting and his passion for the history of Comrades, which was great for a novice like me. Always with me and something I still wear is the Comrades singlet he had made for the first unofficial Comrades team to compete in an American marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in 2005. The team consisted of his son, Noel and a South African airline pilot, who after flying the plane to Washington DC, joined Steve my running partner and Comrades vet, a South African diplomat at the embassy in Washington DC and myself. We were all Comrades vets.”

KZNA President, Steve Mkasi says, “The loss of this great North Star of Comrades at a time such as this is very tragic. Over the last couple of years, we have seen a great exodus of Comrades greats to the other side. As the family of athletics, we are at a great loss for the untimely departure of this legend. Rest easy Comrade Chair. You have fought your fight and have completed your journey.”

CMA Elder, Macdonald Chitja says, “Most of us serve because we find ourselves put in positions requiring us to serve. Then, there are the very few who firstly make it their mission to understand the organization they are called to serve and dedicate their service to the organization based on the values and principles of the organization. Barry understood what the Comrades Marathon stood for; he knew the history of the event better than most. He knew the very foundation of the race beyond what is written in the books. He dedicated his time and service to the CMA ensuring that the organization remains true to its history and traditions and that we do not forget the values that define the Comrades Marathon. He was a committed and disciplined member of the association and had no ego. He gave so much to the Comrades Marathon Association, the organization he loved so much. The CMA will be poorer without him, a big chunk of institutional memory is lost. I will miss his smile, his sincerity and his love for life. May his soul rest in peace.”

CMA Museum Curator, Roxanne Thomas says, “A more passionate Comrades runner, lover and supporter, and eventually friend I never did meet. May your soul rest in the nest you provided for so many. A great guy.”

Nedbank Running Club Manager, Nick Bester says, “Barry was one of the humblest humans and always a pleasure to talk to. Great loss for running and Comrades.”

CMA Finish Procedure Co-Convenor, Gawie Falconer says, “A sad day losing a dear friend, a true Comrades Legend who served as a Chairperson of the Comrades Marathon Association and as a Board member for many years. A man who fought tirelessly for the Green Number Club. Relishing the major value the Green Number Club meant and had in growing the Comrades Marathon and attracted many to strive to be part of this Club within the Comrades Marathon organization. I personally gained so much knowledge and pleasure serving with Barry and the many passionate and proud Green Number Club members. For many years Barry worked tirelessly on the history of our great race. He was involved in starting the Comrades Experience, the forerunner to the present-day Expo prior to the race annually. We lose an extremely passionate Comrades Legend. RIP Barry (UMKHULU) Varty 616. Condolences to Barbara, Noel & family.”

CMA Board Member, Patricia Freeman says, “Barry will always be an inspiration because of his passion for running, his dedication and commitment to CMA, his Yellowwood Park Club and the SA running community. My memories of him are of a happy gentleman who was respectful of others no matter how tired he was after or during a run. A true ambassador of distance road running was shown by his passion to capture fellow runners on the route with his ever-present camera! Always pushing forward and making sure that every moment was enjoyed to the full. I will sadly miss seeing that happy face of Barry wearing his aptly designed UMKHULU 1939 t-shirt. May you rest in peace Comrades Legend, you will never be forgotten!”

Former CMA Board Member, Terence Hoskins says, “Lola and I are saddened by this news. Our sympathy goes out to Barry’s wife Barbara and his loved ones. We feel their pain. Barry was one of the Comrade greats; what he did for Comrades came from his heart. We had some good times. Thanks for being there as a teacher and friend. May your soul rest in peace.”

CMA Finish Venue Convenor, Chris Lombard says, “It is a great loss for Comrades. I will miss him, always walking around with his camera at the build-up. Rest in peace Barry.”

Former CMA Chairperson, Mervyn Williams says, “Barry was passionate about the Comrades Marathon both as a runner and a member of the CMA. He was Chairman of the Executive Committee in the mid-90’s and I was privileged to have had his loyal support during my term of office. His other passion was music but only second to the Comrades; he was a member of the NMR military band for many years and also a band in the British Army. In true Comrades tradition, he instigated and welcomed the playing of the “Last Post” at the close of the Comrades Marathon. Barry was the historian of the Comrades, having taken over and embellished the records of the late Vernon Jones. His historic presentation to runners, clubs and many others was renowned. A great and respected Comrades Marathon man, may he rest in peace.”