Willie Diverty

Div Group

Willie Diverty, second right, middle row

Willie Diverty was a well known figure in Scottish athletics circles for many, many years as a first class organiser with a very friendly manner and – of course, first and foremost perhaps – for his connections to Glasgow University.    He died on 1st December 1969 in Killearn Hospital, having been admitted in October.   He was involved in track & field, cross-country and road running almost exclusively for Glasgow University and was particularly associated with the well-established University Road Race.  He was a member of the Scottish Cross-Country Union and was President in season 1968-’69 when the World Cross Country Championship was held in Clydebank in Scotland.   Like everything else that he was involved with, it was a tremendous success.  Some say that he was originally a member of Victoria Park AAC and certainly his son Graeme was a member, but there seems to be no real evidence to support this and for most of us he first appears at GU H&H AGM in season 1956-’57.  Like many of his generation, such as Jack Crawford of Springburn,  he was always very well turned out with collar and tie, well pressed trousers and shoes properly shined.   He was President of the Hares & Hounds from 1957-’58 to 1960-’61 and again from 1966-67 to 1969-70.

Willie became Glasgow University Hares & Hounds President in season 1956-’57.   The minute of the meeting says: “Professor Campbell then intimated that as sport kept him extremely busy, he felt that the Hares & Hounds would be better served by a new President.   Stuart McFarlane then proposed Mr William Diverty, who had been present at the meeting.    He was introduced to the Hares & Hounds by Andy Galbraith and subsequently elected both as President, and as Midland District representative.”   He was re-elected the following year and his involvement with both Glasgow University and the SCCU was to continue to benefit both for some time to come.   His progress was easily seen in his being given more and more responsible tasks to fulfil – eg in the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay, he was a coach stewart until 1960, then a place judge working mostly with Jim Morton and Walter Lawn, and then from 1966 – 1969 as Vice-President and then President of the Union.   His affiliation, where it was not ‘SNCCU’ was always Glasgow University.

During season 1958-’59 there had been difficulties with the University allowing a Youth (Under 17 runner) to race for them, when it was not allowed for under SCCU rules.   At the AGM at the end of that year, “The President, Mr Willie Diverty, mentioned “various points of difference of opinion between the Hares and Hounds  and the Scottish Cross-Country Union which had occurred during the season, mostly concerning the running of Jim Bogan (a Youth) in distances greater than three miles.   There then followed a discussion about whether the Hares and Hounds should run Youths or not.   A discussion which became extremely spirited and long drawn out.”   The verdict?   Stan Horn proposed that Youths be allowed to run subject to jurisdiction by the Committee and that proposal was carried.   Willie was subsequently re-elected.

The question of the relationship between SCCU and the Scottish Universities did not go away and at the AGM in 1960, “Mr Diverty then spoke of the seemingly habitual friction between the SCCU and the Scottish Universities.   He mentioned a letter from Jim Bogan to the aforesaid body, and requested that “those with complaints should consult himself beforehand so that he could act in his capacity as the Hares and Hounds representative to the SCCU.”   At the end of the meeting, ‘Mr Bill Diverty’ was re-elected President, with Douglas Gifford Secretary/Treasurer.

Early in the meeting at the 1961-’62 AGM, Willie spoke about a notable success from the previous season: “Mr Willie Diverty, who was present at the meeting, congratulated the Hares & Hounds for winning the William Ross Cunningham Memorial Trophy for being the most outstanding club of the 27 in GUAC during the 1960-’61 season.   The immediate past year had also been most successful with the Hares & Hounds winning the Scottish Universities Championship and coming fifth in the British Universities championship.”     There were other matters of importance to be discussed that evening and Willie was involved in several of these.   The  club had often turned out two teams and on one occasion three, Mr Diverty wondered about a cup for the second team in the Scottish Universities Cross-Country Championship.   Then “Under AOCB it was proposed that Mr Diverty should deliver a formal protest to the SCCU about the types of courses used for Championship races.   Of particular concern ere the Midland District course at Renton, which involved a number of dangerous barbed wire fences, and the National course at Hamilton which was considered by many to be tool easy to be deemed as bona fide cross country.   Jim Bogan undertook to prepare details of possible additions to the course at Hamilton, which would be submitted by Mr Diverty to the SCCU.   (When the issue was subsequently raised at the AGM of the SCCU, however, the Hares’ and Hounds views were not sympathetically received.   The National Committee considered that the types of National Championship courses were now geared to those used in international events where the emphasis was on speed.)”   At this AGM, Mr David Johnstone was elected club president but the change didn’t affect in any way Willie’s activities on behalf of the club and he continued on the SCCU Committee as club representative.

At the 1963 General Meeting, the continued progress of the Hares and Hounds was detailed and it was noted that a championship tankard had been presented by Mr George Esslemont, the City Chamberlain of Glasgow, and one of the Hares and Hounds vice-presidents.    Bill Diverty was re-elected as vice-president and in 1964 it was agreed that the Esslemont Tankard be awarded to the first University man home in the Universities Championship and Calum Laing was the winner in its first two years.   Another trophy was presented to the club: Craig Sharp donated a trophy to be known as the J McCulloch Award in memory of his friend and it was to be awarded as a result of a points contest for races in which the Hares & Hounds took part – the first winner was Allan Faulds.   At the 1964-’65 AGM “Mr Diverty  (Vice President and the club’s Midland District representative) then spoke.   He mentioned how he served on the SCCU General Committee and presented all the Universities views there The SCCU were now demanding 16 athletes to compete in a Scottish Universities’ Select against a SCCU team.   Not all the Universities agreed to this, and the matter would need to be finalised at the next SCCU meeting.   The Hares and Hounds believed that 12 was the maximum number that could be raised.”  

The club had three vice-presidents – George Dallas, George Esslemont and Willie Diverty – and all were present at the 1966 meeting and Willie was again elected President.   The Glasgow University Road Race had been going for several years by then and Diverty suggested the incorporation of a team event.   The meeting however felt that this was an event for individuals, it was almost unique in Scotland and that it should not be changed.    President Diverty went on attending meetings and presiding at General Meetings in his usual manner but at the meeting at the end of the 1967-’68 season

“In his Presidential report Mr Diverty launched straight into an attack on the year’s worst performance, ie the Edinburgh to Glasgow Relay Race.   He hoped that the Hares and Hounds would qualify for next year’s event, as he said it would be most embarrassing for him  (as President of the SCCU) if his club’s team was not represented.   However, he expected Paisley Harriers to drop out, thus improving the Hares and Hounds chances of competing.   Willie Diverty emphasised the importance of the Edinburgh to Glasgow race, saying it was the major event of the season – being even more prestigious than the National Championships.    Mr Diverty said that he had point out to his fellow SCCU officials how the Universities were at a disadvantage when it came to picking teams for races early in the season, as they did not know the form of their new members.   As a consequence of his intervention, the Midland District relay had been put back to the first weekend in November, however this would require an alteration to the date of one of the Hares and Hounds own races.”   

He was however re-elected as President and then when Graeme Orr proposed a joint tour of Ireland with Strathclyde University, “Mr Diverty however was of the opinion ‘that Strathclyde has a disreputable element and that the tour might disintegrate into a brawl.’   Members strongly disagreed with this although it was pointed out that numbers would be so great as to pose a great burden on the hosts.   Finally at the end of the meeting it was agreed to prepare a letter for the start of the new season in 1968-’69 describing the club’s activities and Mr Diverty would write a welcome to the club.


Willie Diverty as team manager at the Cross des Capitals  with John Myatt and Gareth Bryan Jones

The meeting in 1969 was held while Willie Diverty was President of the SCCU and he remarked on it in his review of the season.   “In his Presidential report Mr Diverty said that he was extremely honoured to become President of the SCCU  and it reflected greatly on the Hares and Hounds.   In fact, only once before (in the 1890’s) had a University supplied a SCCU President – he had been from Edinburgh.   Mr Diverty reported that the International Cross-Country Championships held at Clydebank had gone very well .   Mr Diverty had also approached Dr Charles Hepburn (Honorary President of the ICCU for 1968-’69 and a Hares & Hounds vice-president) regarding a trophy for the University Road Race and he had been delighted to provide the club with one. “   Of course, as President of the national governing body, Willie Diverty was re-elected president of the club.

All seemed well but Willie was admitted to Killearn Hospital in October 1969 and died on 1st December that year.   It was a shock to everybody who knew him – and that meant just about all involved in the organisation and administration of the sport in Scotland at the time.   The history of the Glasgow University Hares & Hounds includes the following in the minutes of the AGM on 9th March 1970.

“The Secretary’s report began on a sad note with Alasdair Reid expressing his deepest regret on the death of the President Mr Willie Diverty. Alasdair said that one of Willie’s major achievements on behalf of the Club was the University Road Race which had gone from strength to strength. The former Captain and Secretary Ray Baillie had written to Dr Charles Hepburn in Canada, and suggested that the trophy which he had donated for the Road Race be a memorial to Mr Diverty and named after him.”

What has been reproduced above from the Hares & Hounds history covers his time with them but for what Willie was like, we can look at what has been said after his death.

He was the regular correspondent for Scottish news and results in ‘Athletics Weekly’ and after they had published a short obituary on 13th January, the following letter was published in the December 20th   issue:


“Dear Sir,

May I be allowed to join you in your expression of deep regret at the untimely death of your Scottish Correspondent, Willie Diverty?   I met him many times in the last few years, both here in the south and in Scotland. Indeed, I had the pleasure of accommodating him during the week-end of this year’s AAA Championships, when he seemed in excellent health. It is hard to realise that we shall see him no more.   His was a cheerful, friendly, extrovert personality and his obvious pleasure in ‘having a word’ with all and sundry in the world of athletics and his gregarious good-humour invited one to reciprocate, which was easy in the face of such disarming enthusiasm for the company of his fellow man.

His notes in your columns for so many years were concerned with facts, figures and people rather than with the projection of his own personality and we in the south interested in Scottish Athletics will sadly miss the name of Willie Diverty each Friday. He would have been the first to wish his successor well and hope that he enjoy the job as surely as he, Willie, did for so long.

                                                            A.Glen Haig,

                                                            New Malden, Surrey.

Glen Haig was one of the best known officials in British athletics at the time.

Graeme Orr who was a working member of the Hares & Hounds and had been their secretary in 1967-’68, tells us that “No account of the Hares & Hounds would be complete without a mention of Willie Diverty, our constant companion and “manager”.   I insert the inverted commas because I never recall Willie discussing tactics or giving hints on training or style.   He was a cheerleader and administrator par excellence, however my mother still remembers the Saturday morning phone calls from Willie  “Is Graeme running?”

Colin Youngson from Aberdeen adds the following comments:

“I first ran (rather poorly) for Scottish Universities against SCCU Select in December 1967, in my second year at Aberdeen University.   I still have the friendly selection letter that Willie Diverty signed then; and once again in 1968. More importantly, he is mentioned in the Edinburgh to Glasgow Race booklet as SCCU vice-president; then in 1968 as President. He features as a timekeeper at the 1968 SU Athletics Championships at St Andrews.

On Saturday 22nd March the International Cross Country Championships (Cross Des Nations) was held in a hilly public park in Clydebank, Scotland.    AU runners went down in a minibus and thoroughly enjoyed spectating.    There was a smiling photo of Willie Diverty in the programme, since he was ‘Le President’ of the ‘Federation Ecossaise de Cross’.    After a great battle, Gaston Roelants (Belgium) defeated Dick Taylor (England), with Scotland’s Ian McCafferty outkicking England’s Mike Tagg for the bronze medal.    Dave Bedford (England) strolled away with the Junior International title.    It was a memorable, thoroughly successful day, and Willie Diverty must have received many congratulations, due to his committee’s excellent organisation.

I remember Willie as a cheerful, chatty Glaswegian who exuded enthusiasm and encouraged all young runners. He certainly contributed a great deal to University athletics, on track, road and country. Alex Johnston took over from Willie as Secretary/Organiser of the Scottish Universities Athletics Board.”