The First B.C. Randonneur

John William Hathaway
January 13, 1925 to June 6, 1997
A Retrospective

I first heard about John in 1944, during World War II. I first saw John in action in 1949 during a 100 mile time trial in which he passed me. I first corresponded with him in 1966 when Joan and I were planning to leave Montréal and head west and first met him July 19, 1966, when we had arrived in Vancouver. I feel a personal reminiscence may be of more value in a Club Newsletter than an official obituary.

Cycling, the oldest and best of the magazines devoted to our sport, was always standard fare in our house and I used to eagerly wait for Dad to come home from work with the current week's issue in his saddle bag. In scanning the previous weekend's race results I would get used to seeing the name J. W. Hathaway at or near the top of time trial results in the Midlands, especially around his home in England's Bicycle City, Coventry. There was one event I had particular interest in. It was a mountain time trial in North Wales. It was too far away for me to enter but it was such a change from the normal "out and home" courses we used on fast main roads that I would have loved the opportunity to ride.

In 1950 the event was won by a young unknown, Reg Devonport, with John second. If the handicapper had been right John was due to beat Reg by 2 minutes. It was shortly after this that both names disappeared from the results and it was 1957 before I found out what had happened to J. W. H. In Cycling an article appeared, written, I think, by John, in which he described his epic attack on the Trans-Canada record. He had reduced the figure from 30 days that had stood since 1947 to 24 days 13 hours.

Joan and I landed at Montréal September 23, 1964, a Friday. On the Sunday we were on a club run round Ile Bizard with other expatriates, including Reg Devonport. So, I found out what happened to the other one from that 1950 event. We left Montréal May 3, 1966, in a '64 Chevelle Malibu station wagon which was to be our home for what turned out to be 10 weeks. We headed south to mosquito bites on top of severe sun burn after falling asleep on Daytona beach. New Orleans, Grand Canyon, the Sierra Nevadas, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Banff, Jasper and finally Vancouver followed on July 17, 1966, a Sunday. In Calgary we had stayed in a campsite right in the middle of downtown, we were hoping for a similar facility in Vancouver. We were parked at Ceperley in Stanley Park. We asked a policeman about camping facilities. No luck, but we could stay where we were for 2 or 3 nights while we found work.

On the Monday evening we phoned John and made arrangements to visit him and Margaret the following evening. Not being ready to lose our parking spot we left the wagon there and cycled over to Alamein Street, just off MacDonald. They made us most welcome, high tea, trifles, the lot. Out came the photo albums and old event result sheets. A lovely evening and as it was getting toward dusk and we had no lights I suggested to Joan we should get back. "Back where?", asked John. "Our camp". "Where are you camping?" "In Stanley Park." "You've got a tent in Stanley Park?", (Incredulity in his voice). "No, our station wagon". "What station wagon?". "The one we did this 12,000 miles in of course". The light came; "OH! you didn't do it on your bikes then?!"

That conversation sums up John and his love or addiction to the bike. We had found out he had done a similar journey in reverse in 1955 when he decided to return to UK for a trial run at the old life. He did 8,000 miles in 88 days getting to Montréal. Before that he had cycle camped his way from Toronto, where he holed up for his first Canadian winter, to Vancouver through the summer of 1953. He had hoped to make the Canadian team for the last of the Empire Games (to become the Commonwealth Games). But, employment opportunities were thin and a drafting job at Ocean Falls kept him away from the action. It was after that he decided to take a run at the old life and in 1956 he finished his only 24 hour time trial, 414 miles (662 KM). He decided to return to Vancouver. But being who he was hit on the idea of attacking the Trans-Canada record and organized it from England. Being an unsupported ride he had a stack of postcards to be date stamped at various locations across the country.

Soon after returning to Vancouver he met and married Margaret and from 1959 to 1967 didn't ride anything except a motorbike. When the Devonports followed us west in 1967 (with an unsuccessful attempt on John's record), I was able to reintroduce Reg and John, who hadn't seen or heard of each other since that day in 1950. It got John back on a bike and before long he had a Jack Taylor tandem for some touring with Margaret. But Margaret, a diabetic, gradually went blind and died in 1971 of kidney failure. From then on John returned to cycling despite breaking his hip outside the BC Sugar Refinery on a badly maintained level crossing.

Whether it's recognized by anyone I don't know, but later in 1971 he set a Provincial record from Dawson Creek to Vancouver of 69 hours for the 1200 KM. The following year, in blazing August he took the Calgary-Vancouver record down to 51 hours 6 minutes despite fierce heat and strong head winds, especially through the Fraser Canyon. (12 years before the construction of the Coquihalla route).

By 1974 he was looking for new fields to conquer and decided to take a run at the Guinness Book of Records. In November he set off south with a route planned that would give him 50,000 miles in 100 weeks. Through USA, Mexico & Central America to South America he got to Buenos Aires from where he sailed for Cape Town ready to head north up the "Dark Continent". India, Malaysia, & Australia preceded island hopping to Japan. He was held up for a few weeks waiting for a visa from the USSR to permit him to travel the Trans Siberian railway to Moscow. Nearly finished up in prison for riding his bike in town. More train travel saw him in Europe where was able to start riding again . A convoluted route through Europe and Britain saw him in 1976 ready to tackle that year's Audax version of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). Instead of riding independently the groups stay together behind the Captain who maintains a rigid 22.5 KPH. John found that tough. John was successful, with his world ride getting him a mention in the Guinness book.

But, with his return to Vancouver in October 1976, his European trip sowed the seed for Gerry Pareja, Dan McGuire, Wayne Phillips, and John to plan on the PBP randonnée in 1979. Wayne got round in 65 hours, John in 77, Gerry in 79 and Dan in 83 hours. That set the pattern for the creation of BC randonneuring.

In 1983 John improved his PBP time to inside 72 hours.

By 1986 John was getting itchy feet again and he planned another Round the World epic. This time aiming to climb the World's highest roads en route. He left Vancouver on the last day of Expo and headed east to the Continental Divide and headed south from there. His 62nd birthday on January 13, 1987, found him clambering up the world's highest road out of Lima, Peru. Unfortunately, in Argentina he was hit by a truck, damaging some vertebrae and was in hospital for some weeks. They have a very good cost saving scheme there. The medical care is free but patients' families are expected to look after them. John always had fond memories of the Argentinian family that looked after him.

The damaged back left him a good deal more wizened than he had been. But he still managed to cock a leg over a saddle and cover some considerable distances. In 1990 he sold up everything here and headed back to England. but things didn't work out for him there and before long he was on the road again. He started PBP '91 having qualified in UK events. But his free wheel packed up on him and he was stranded very early in the event.

He arrived back in Vancouver in May 1992 after another journey that took in all the mainland US States except Alaska. He became a mainstay of Vancouver Bike Club runs, as well as joining in on the Seniors' rides mid week. His old nemesis returned, a heart murmur which controlled his riding and the decline had set in. Early in April 1997 he was diagnosed with cancer. From then on he declined but was, as always, content with his lot. "I've always done what I wanted to do", he said to me once. He retained his sense of humor to the end. I walked in the ward once to take his brother and sister-in-law back to Jack and Rosemarie Sharkey's place. "Are we ready to go?", I asked. "I am", John said, with a smile. He didn't mind, I think he felt his life ended when he could no longer ride a bike.

Harold Bridge, June 11, 1997 aroldb1927 AT
© Copyright 1997

British Columbia cyclists said goodbye today to a great Randonneur, truly one of those who fully earned the capital R in the word. The memorial service for John Hathaway, who recently died of cancer at the age of 72, was attended by about 90 of his friends, amongst them (in spite of a record-setting downpour) about 20 or 30 cyclists who made the journey to pay our last respects to a man who inspired several generations of riders who came into contact with him. A sizeable bunch of the bikies were in the Procession of Honour organized by Bruce Hainer of the Vancouver Bicycle Club.

I was very honoured to have been asked to help as an usher, and was delighted to be able to greet his (and my) old & new riding mates, folks from the local bicycle industry, and friends of the family. Among the attendees were the other three B.C. cyclists who, with John, made up the first successful Canadian team at Paris-Brest-Paris (1979): Dan McGuire, Wayne Phillips & yours truly.

Harold Bridge, now Vice-President of the Randonneur sector of Cycling B.C., spoke from the heart and stirred many a memory with his stories of the John we all knew and admired. Harold, still fit and keen at 70,

cycled over from a far suburb of Vancouver, B.C. bringing along over a dozen of John's medals and other memorabilia. A tandem riding partner of John's from the 1980s, Peg Mercer, literally blew us away with a stirring a-capella rendition of Amazing Grace.

If there were tears, they were certainly of joy: the joy of knowing we had all been touched by John's unique and unforgettable personality and spirit, and out of pain and in a safe place.

At the reception, messages were read, in part, received by e-mail and fax from people who could not attend. Among them were Jennifer Wise, current President of the Brevets Randonneurs Mondiaux, Robert Lepertel, the first President and guiding light of the BRM, and webmaster extraordinaire, Johnny Bertrand. A scrapbook was also circulated.

Special thanks go to the hard-working volunteers who helped organize the service: Harold, Bietta Harritz (co-executor of the estate, along with Harold), and former Vancouver Bicycle Club president Henry Hulbert, who truly took John under his wing when he needed a helping hand in the tough final weeks of his life.

The celebration became truly joyous with adjournment to a local eatery, where many more stories of our good friend were swapped and savored.

John: you would have loved it had you been there . . . but come to think of it, you were-in our hearts!

by Gerry Pareja gpareja AT

Gordon Bisaro: One of a Kind

Gordon Bisaro died prematurely of cancer on July 14, 1997. After attending a memorial service in his honour, I dug into my small stock of 'Gordon Memorabilia' and came upon an article in the Province's "Getting There" section which featured a contest for the best cycle commuter horror story. This contest was won by Gord for the following letter, which was illustrated on the cover of the section. I'd like to share his letter with you, as it is very much "Gord."

Helen Warn hwarn AT

Riding my bike in traffic one day, I was smacked on the back by a heavy object. It caused me to veer sharply--but luckily--without mishap. Despite the shock, I managed to get a partial license plate number and a fleeting glimpse of the driver of the vehicle from which the thing, whatever it was, was thrown. I soon found that I had been hit by a flying dead cat--and a bloody one at that. My cycling jacket was covered in congealed blood.

I plotted my revenge. I got a list of possible license-plate numbers. I matched the car year and make. I then visited the owner, an old man who, he told me, had a son who drove sometimes. I hit paydirt on the second visit--the son looked just like the person I had glimpsed. I went to the police with my case. They interviewed the young man, who produced an alibi. My identification just wasn't good enough, so no criminal charges were laid. I then turned to the civil law. I started a small-claims action for $85-the price of a replacement jacket. I'm sure I had the right person when he didn't respond to my lawsuit, but I decided to let the matter drop.

Why all the effort? Over the years I have had all sorts of things thrown at me--from the usual pop and beer bottles, once a gas can and even a stuffed animal. But I had to draw the line at dead cats.

...signed Gordon Bisaro

Gord had been an active Randonneur since 1987. He completed the PBP twice (in '91 and '95), and Boston-Montreal-Boston once. He was known for his determination, competitiveness, generosity and valiant struggle to learn French (which the rest of his family is fluent in).

Gord is survived by his wife Margaret, son Sandy and daughter Katie.

since June, 1997