Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 07 Jun 2008 05:24:02 -0400

Father Ross


[Rerun from June 1998 RC. Photo of Browning Ross in late life, holding a shot of himself (in dark jacket) from his youth; courtesy of Jack Heath.]

I didn't want to believe the news when it first reached me third-hand. But the source was too good a reporter to pass along an unfounded rumor this terrible.

Browning Ross was dead. A cop found him in his parked car after his usual morning three-mile run near his home in Woodbury, New Jersey.

A heart attack was blamed for his death a day after his 74th birthday. He died doing what he had lived.

If asked to name the fathers of modern U.S. road racing, I'd think first of Browning Ross. He was a terrific runner himself. He ran in two Olympics, 1948 and '52, as a steeplechaser... won the 1951 Pan-American Games in the 1500... placed second in the steeple and fourth in the 5000... won a national cross-country title and more on the roads than he could remember.

A runner only works for his own good, though, and Browning worked for the good of all who ran. He never sought glory for his publishing and organizing, never was widely celebrated for it, and probably never realized the breadth and depth of his contributions.

In 1957 he started a magazine. Long Distance Log was the first to link the small and scattered band of road racers. Without his LDL there might never have been a Runner's World, because he showed the future publisher and first editor what was possible. The Log faded out, with never a bitter public word from Browning, as RW found its legs in the early 1970s.

In 1958 he arranged a meeting in a New York City hotel room that led to formation of the Road Runners Club of America. There would have been an RRCA without him, but it wouldn't have arrived as soon or had the voice that his magazine gave the fledgling club.

He served as chairman of the AAU long-distance committee. He championed women's running at a time when the AAU's geezers wanted to keep the sport all-male.

I saw him at the 1970 national convention in San Francisco. He chaired the meeting at which an official called women's marathoning "a lark for housewives with too much time on their hands." Browning rolled his eyes at that.

Mainly, though, Browning Ross acted locally. He coached at high schools, he operated a running store, and always he organized races.

He might hold the world record for number of events conducted. From his 20s through his last days he averaged at least one race a month.

The May 1998 issue of Runner's World honored him, for his ongoing race directing, with its Golden Shoe Award. This was one of the few times his picture ever appeared in the magazine to which he could claim parenthood.

In spring 1998 the South Jersey Athletic Club gave him a tribute dinner for lifelong contributions. Somehow his teammates knew that it was time.

Sadly, my tributes were posthumous. I carried his initials on my cap bill in my next marathon. I dedicated my next book, Best Runs, to him.

You see, he wasn't just a father of the modern sport. He was one of my own running fathers.

His magazine, which I first read in 1959, turned me toward longer running. My first words in a running publication appeared as a 1961 letter in Long Distance Log.

He offered me, someone he'd never seen and had talked with only by mail, a job at his summer camp and a place to live in 1964. I've always regretted turning him down.

He greeted me at my first marathon, Boston 1967, and introduced me to Tom Osler. Browning promoted Osler's mini-classic, The Conditioning of Distance Runners, that same year -- which inspired my booklet, LSD, a term I lifted from the pages of the Log.

I owe much to him. We all do, and can make partial payment by remembering him.
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