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Sir Roger Bannister found ‘peace’ in the Church, priest daughter says

09 March 2018

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Winston Churchill, standing outside 10 Downing Street, watches Roger Bannister (far right), Chris Chataway (second from right), and Chris Brasher (second from left) begin their run through the streets of London with grants for four historic churches, in June 1954. Mr Brasher and Mr Chataway were Mr Bannister’s sponsors at his baptism at All Souls Langham Place

Winston Churchill, standing outside 10 Downing Street, watches Roger Bannister (far right), Chris Chataway (second from right), and Chris Brasher (sec...

THE priest daughter of Sir Roger Bannister has paid tribute to her father, who was the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes, and who died on Saturday.

The Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker, an associate priest at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, in Oxford, said that she read prayers, psalms, and hymns with her father, a lifelong churchgoer, at his bedside shortly before he died.

While his working life had been focused on sport — he ran for Britain in the 1952 Olympics before his famous world-record mile run in 1954 — and then medicine, “in retirement, he also brought the same inquiring passion to the arts, history and religion”, Ms Bannister-Parker said.

“All his life, my father attended church. He said it brought him peace, especially in his hectic years as a junior doctor and young father. In his later years, he thought deeply about faith, science, and philosophy.”

While Sir Roger had been raised in the Unitarian tradition by his parents, including his lay preacher mother, after he was married he became friends with the Rector of All Souls’, Langham Place, the Revd Dr John Stott.

“John became a friend and baptised my father at All Souls’ — both his great running companions of the track and dear friends Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher were his sponsors,” Ms Bannister-Parker said.

Before he became famous around the world for his running exploits, he attended University College School in north London, where the Revd Peter Liddelow, a retired priest and chaplain to the Magic Circle, was also a pupil at the same time.

He recalled how, even as a teenager, Sir Roger was “always running around the field”, although that did not stop him, as a prefect, from pulling up the young Mr Liddelow, who was late for Latin class, for sprinting through the corridors.

The welcoming speech by the school’s headmaster, in which he urged the boys not to “waste a minute” of their five years at the school, stayed with both Mr Liddelow and Sir Roger. Later, he wrote to Mr Liddelow, quoting the poet Robert Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.”

“He gave his very best, even as a boy, to use every minute of his day and follow the words of the headmaster,” Mr Liddelow recalled.

Bannister competed at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics in the 1500-metre distance, despite only training part-time during his studies as a medical student in Oxford. After finishing a narrow fourth, he set his sights on becoming the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes, eventually achieving his goal in May 1954.

After his Olympic exploits, Bannister turned his speed to fundraising, joining relay races through central London to raise money for the newly formed Historic Churches Preservation Trust (now the National Churches Trust). In 1952, he was pictured in his running gear on the front page of the Church Times, handing over the first gifts raised in the appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London.

After a successful 40-year career practising medicine, which he always insisted was a greater achievement than his sub-four-minute mile, Sir Roger, who was knighted in 1975, and
Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, from 1985 to 1993, retired, although he continued to attend regularly the University Church in Oxford.

“Sunday lunch was usually a vibrant discussion on the strength and weaknesses of the message delivered from the pulpit,” Ms Bannister-Parker recalled.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Moyra, Lady Bannister, his four children, 14 grandchildren, and, only seven weeks ago, his first great-grandchild.

Read about Roger Bannister running to save England’s historic churches

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