Published: Jun 19, 2012 11:04:34 AM Updated: Jul 16, 2012 10:25:35 AM
18 June 2012
Obituary – Eric Stanley Arnold OAM
One of the longest servicing officials in NSW athletics history, Eric Arnold, born on December 16, 1923, died on Tuesday (June 12, 2012), aged 88.
Eric was born and raised in Petersham and attended Fort St Boys’ High School. Towards the end of World War II he joined the Army Reserve while studying mathematics and science at Sydney University. After university he chose not to teach high school, but primary school because he wanted to teach children in their formative years. His first postings were Wentworth and then Woonona. In the ‘50s he was appointed to Lithgow and his love of the town evolved. Eric’s niece, Lynne noted:
“In the short time since his death we have had so many comments from his former pupils of what a wonderful caring teacher he was and what an effect he had on their lives.”
His teaching career was an amazing 41 years
Eric loved kids, any kids, all kids and always had time to talk to them about whatever they wanted to talk about. Bushwalking and photography were other passions in Eric’s life. He loved listening to classical music, attending the opera and gazing at the stars.
In the early ‘60s he helped with the reformation of Lithgow Athletics Club, becoming secretary and giving nearly 50 years’ service.
He started officiating with Athletics NSW in 1966. One of his best friends was Don Allen who had fond memories of working with Eric from the late 60s until last season when Eric retired.
“Eric was a regular official at inter-club and State championships and occasionally at national championships. I recall travelling with him to Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart.
``He mostly officiated in the jumps, particularly high jump. He had a great rapport with the athletes, not surprising as he was a primary school teacher. When we first got a mobile phone, NSW junior international high jumper Sophia Begg taught him how to use it. I recall at a school carnival where he gave the 13-year-old students a quick coaching lesson before the competition started.”
Eric coached at school and locally too and was delighted with the emergence of a talented junior high jumper Michael Cox from the Lithgow club shortly after the Sydney Olympics.
To officiate in Sydney Eric would take a two-and-a-half hour train trip to Strathfield station where Don Allen would meet him.
“For competitions which started early, Eric would catch the 4.37am train from Lithgow. In later years he didn’t sleep as well during the night, but he could sleep on the train and on more than one occasion on the return journey he would wake up in the Lithgow shunting yards,” Don said.
“In recent years he struggled to bend down and so he brought a pair of kitchen tongs to lift the high jump bar. Generally we placed him in sit-down jobs. He was a ‘par excellence’ recorder. He and I never sought refereeing roles, happy to hold event official positions where we had close contact with the athletes.”
While Eric would travel regularly to Sydney to officiate he worked tireless for athletics in Lithgow and mid-western NSW. With athletics declining in country areas, Eric became a key person ensuring its support in the region. From 1966 he was the driving force behind the Lithgow club. Over the years his positions included president, secretary, coach and championships officer. When the Little Athletics club was formed in 1977 he was elected secretary, a role he held for 26 years until 2003. He was made a life member of the club and was inducted into Lithgow Sport Hall of Fame.
Eric was of course involved in the zone and region Little Athletics carnivals and was awarded life membership of both the Central Tablelands and Blue Mountains Zones. He was also a life member of the Lithgow senior club which eventually folded at the end of the 2004/05 season.
“He was disappointed the club was priced out of existence,” Don Allen said. But Eric maintained a strong presence in Lithgow and the region, starting swimming races at local carnivals. He and Don often attended the Dubbo New Year’s Eve athletics carnival and Don said he would have been would be most pleased with the recent announcement of a new synthetic track for that town.
In 1999 Eric was awarded with a LANSW Officials Gold Service Award for outstanding service. From Athletics NSW he received a merit award and life membership.
Eric officiated at the 2000 Paralympic Games as a jumps judge. In 2006 he was awarded an Athletics Australia Platinum Service Award
For his significant contribution to the sport for more than 40 years Eric was awarded an OAM in the 2003 Australia Day Honours.
How would sport survive without the dedication of volunteers like Eric Arnold? He gave a lifetime to our sport, offering generations of people the opportunity to participate.
He was stubborn and a fighter. At his funeral his niece said:
“I feared his time had come when he said to me a couple of days before his passing, ‘I don’t think I can make it this time’.
“We may be his family blood relatives but Eric was a member of many many families throughout the district. He touched people’s hearts through his generosity, willingness to assist with a kind word or deed and always a support to others with his unconditional love.
“The athletics world will miss him, Lithgow will miss him and our hearts are saddened because we will miss him terribly.”
David Tarbotton and Ron Bendall for Athletics NSW
Thanks to the following contributors to this article: Lithgow Mercury, NSW Little Athletics, Vilis Gravitis, Don Allen, Lynette and Kim Ritchie.
Image Eric Arnold (courtesy of David Tarbotton)
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