Champion runner, multiple national titles and records as a winning coach and a top flight administrator – that is the unique athletics career of 86-year-old Ernest Alan (Toby) Bowyer, who died in late January.

Bowyer, nick-named the "running policeman", was a strong middle distance track runner and harrier in Whanganui in the late 1950's and early 1960's until a strained achilles tendon ended his competitive career.

He turned to coaching in 1962, and with a blend of his own training methods and those of the great Arthur Lydiard, Bowyer took on a squad of mainly talented athletes, some as young as age 13.

That group provided the Wanganui Athletic and Cycling Club with a host of New Zealand titles and record-best times.


As an administrator he fully deserved his club life membership, serving the WAACC as patron, as well as president for more than 20 years, chairman, committee members and club captain, while he was also president of the WCNI centre.

Bowyer, who was born in Whangarei on November 25, 1933, as the eldest of five children, also lived in the railway towns of Waihi, Morrinsville and Taumarunui before coming to Whanganui.

He was a talented all-round sportsman, making the King Country junior representative rugby side, which also included the legendary Sir Colin Meads, while playing basketball, squash and getting down to a single figure handicap golfer, including scoring a hole in one.

In Whanganui athletics, he won mainly quarter-and-a-half mile races at Cooks Gardens, with some of his toughest opposition coming from the late Colin Broadhead.

He set local track records and won WCNI centre titles as well as New Zealand Combined Services championships as a member of the NZ Police team.

Although middle distance running was his speciality, Bowyer, who was also a strong sprinter, and came up against the likes of champions Sir Peter Snell, Sir Murray Halberg and Bill Baillie in the 800m and 1500m at the nationals.

In 1961, Bowyer and Broadhead raced against Snell in an invitation half mile event at Whanganui High School.

As a coach, Bowyer's main success was with NZ representative Kevin Ross, who along with Dick Quax, Richard Tayler and Whanganui Collegiate-educated Tony Pohill set a world 4x1 mile relay record.


Ross, a small but explosive runner, won three national senior 800 yards championships from 1967-69 and the 1500m title in 1971.

He went close to Olympic selection.

A sought-after sub-4 min mile time just eluded Ross who several times missed the magic mark by fractions of a second.

Bowyer also coached other fine local runners who won national junior or age grade titles or set NZ records.

Talented athletes under his guidance during 24 years of coaching included Dean Crowe, Michael Campion, Graham Lockett, David Bullock, Lew Boosey, Murray Gilbertson, Chris Dawes, Eric and Janice Kemp, Leslie Lockett and Shirley McDougall.

In harriers, Bowyer won numerous club titles, helping the club to collect WCNI honours.
Later in his years his passion turned to cycling, mainly for fitness purposes.

Whanganui middle distance runners now compete for the Toby Bowyer Trophy.

Bowyer left school aged 16, worked as a grocer's boy and was a blacksmith and fitter welder during an apprenticeship in Taumarunui.

He joined the NZ Police in 1955, being posted to Whanganui after graduating from the Trentham Police College, rising to the rank of detective and serving as a member of the original 12-man NZ Murder Squad that travelled around the country in the 1950-60's and 70's.

During his time in the police, he served on the protection team for US president Lyndon Johnson, the Queen mother, Prince Charles, Prince Edward and Lady Diana.

He was awarded four long service and good conduct medals for his 33 years with the NZ Police and after his retirement he worked as Clerk of the Court at the Wanganui Courthouse.

Toby Bowyer, who died in the city on January 22, is survived by his wife for 64 years Norma, son Elliott and daughter Bronwyn and five grand children.