Obituary: Joe McGhee, Falkirk’s gold medal-winning ‘King of the Road’

Joe McGhee won gold at the 1954 British Empire Games
Joe McGhee won gold at the 1954 British Empire Games

Falkirk’s ‘King of the Road’ Joe McGhee has died at the age of 85.

Joe, who won a gold medal at the British Empire Games in Canada in 1954 and was three-times Scottish Marathon Champion passed away in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh last Friday.

Born in Camelon on July 9, 1929, he was one of three children of William McGhee, who worked at the ICI in Grangemouth, and his wife, Jane.

McGhee was a champion distance runner before starting his MA degree at Glasgow University in 1946. He led Glasgow to gold at the Scottish Universities’ Cross Country Championships, was selected for the Scottish Universities’ cross-country team every year of his studies and captained the university’s Hares and Hounds Club in 1949-50.

The former dux of St Francis’ RC Primary graduated in 1951. He taught at St Modan’s High School in Stirling, was head of English at St David’s High in Dalkeith and head of linguistics at Aberdeen College of Education.

He was a member of St Modan’s AAC, but won the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association’s marathon title in 1954, 1955 and 1956 - the first man to do it - with Shettleston Harriers while completing his National Service as a Flight Lieutenant at RAF Turnhouse in Edinburgh.

The Vancouver race is remembered for the failure of England’s Jim Peters to win it. At least 16 minutes ahead when he reached the stadium, Peters paid the price for setting a blistering pace on such a hot day and collapsed just 200 yards from home leaving McGhee, who had run more conservatively, to become the youngest-ever Empire/Commonwealth Games marathon gold medalist.

McGhee always refused to comment about the ‘controversy’ saying later: “The victory ceremony as the Scottish flag was raised will remain an unforgettable memory.”

Retaining his Scottish title in a record time the following season underlined his Games gold was no fluke.

He retired to Edinburgh in 1986 and continued running until knee injuries finally reduced him to walking pace in 1995.

Mr McGhee is survived by his wife Margaret, they married in 1960, their five children, Joseph, Louise, Gillian, Pauline and Clare and six grandchildren.

A funeral mass will be held at St Peter’s RC Church, Morningside, tomorrow (Friday) at 11 a.m. and thereafter to Craigmillar Castle Park Cemetery, Old Dalkeith Road, for 12.30 p.m. The family extends an invitation to everyone from Falkirk who knew him to attend.