Vale Harry Gordon - A Great Australian

22-Jan-2015 9:35 AM

A distinguished career that spanned 70 years has ended with the passing of journalist, foreign correspondent, editor, author and Olympic historian, Harry Gordon.

Harry was by far one of Australia’s most admired and accomplished journalists. When it came to the Olympics, he was without peer. He has passed away in Queensland at the age of 89.

Harry was 16 when he joined Sydney’s Daily Telegraph as a copy boy. By the time he was 24 he was a war correspondent in Korea and Algeria. He later became the editor of the Melbourne Sun and then editor-in-chief of two major groups, the Herald and Weekly Times and Queensland Newspapers as well as Chairman of Australian Associated Press (AAP).

In those roles, Harry mentored hundreds of young Australian journalists.

From the war zone in Korea he was sent to his first Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952. That was the start of a love affair with the Olympic Movement.

Harry became the doyen of Australian Olympic journalists and was recognised around the world. He wrote a total of 15 books, his final work From Athens With Pride was published last year.

His Olympic involvement included the “Golden era” in the 1950’s and 60s. He chronicled the deeds of such people as Marjorie Jackson, Shirley Strickland, Betty Cuthbert, Dawn Fraser, Murray Rose and Herb Elliott at the Games of 1952, 1956, 1960 and 1964.

And he was glowing in his tributes to the modern day champions, Kieren Perkins, Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett and Cathy Freeman.

At his 80th birthday the President of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, told assembled guests “Harry has earned the respect of so many people throughout Australia and many more overseas, and not just in the media. Harry is held high on a pedestal by Olympic athletes... young and old. He is their friend, he is admired and trusted and treated like a member of the family”.

In 1956 one of his columns led to the streets in the Melbourne Olympic Village being re-named. They had been called after famous battles but after his words were quoted in parliament, the names were changed to honour Olympic heroes.

In 2000, Harry represented the AOC on the Olympic Co-ordination Authority and he again named Olympic Village streets, as well as the streets and boulevards surrounding the main arenas at Olympic Park.

After the famous incident in 1956 in which John Landy stopped during an Australian mile championship to aid a fallen Ron Clarke, he wrote an open letter to Landy in the Melbourne Sun, explaining that that his (Landy’s) action had been the “instinctive gesture of a man whose mate is in trouble.” When a huge sculpture was unveiled in Olympic Park to commemorate Landy’s gesture, the full text of Harry Gordon’s open letter was incorporated in it, in bronze.

In 1987 he wrote an essay in Time Australia under the headline: “Where are you, John Ian Wing?” That led to the identification and ultimate recognition of the anonymous Chinese boy behind the informal closing ceremony at the Melbourne Games, which changed the closing ceremonies of the Olympics forever.

When stopped being an editor, Harry returned to his passion of covering the Olympic Games starting first with the 1988 Seoul Games right through to London 2012.

He became the official AOC Historian in 1992. His 1994 book, Australia and the Olympic Games, is considered the bible of Olympic publications. Last year’s work, From Athens with Pride, was an updated version of the original.

In 1999 he was awarded the AOC’s highest award, the Order of Merit and in 2001 he received the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) highest honour, the Olympic Order for his outstanding service to the Olympic Movement. 

Other awards included:

2002 - Australia's inaugural award for Lifetime Achievement in Sports Journalism (conferred by the Australian Sports Commission and the National Press Club).

2003 - the Melbourne Press Club presented him with its Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award, and he was inducted as a Member of the MCG Media Hall of Fame.

2006- the International Society of Olympic Historians honoured him with its ISOH Award - the supreme award in its field, and the second ever made.

2013- Melbourne Press Club Hall of Fame.

In his acceptance speech that night Harry said “"Journalism provides a most wonderful life of contrasts. Twice I went from battlefields in Korea and Algeria, where people were killing each other, to Olympic Games in Helsinki and Rome, where the mood was peace and good will."

In 1980, Gordon was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) for his service to Journalism in Queensland and in 1993, was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his service to the community and to the promotion of Australian sport.

Topic: Sports

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