TRIBUTES have poured in to “inspirational” and “incredible” New Forest runner Bruce Davidson who has died at the age of 98.
Well known locally for taking part in the New Forest Marathon for many years, Bruce was met with rapturous cheers as he crossed the finish line in 2016 having completed the 5k run at the age of 95.
Despite only returning to running after his retirement to the New Forest, Bruce went on to take part in two European Veterans Championships winning a host of medals and setting two British records – becoming the quickest 75-year-old over five miles in 1996 and the fastest over five kilometres the following year.
New Forest Marathon director Andy Daish described Bruce as an “amazing and inspirational man”.
He said: “It was a huge privilege to have Bruce taking part in the New Forest marathon. I remember when he crossed the finishing line he had his own fan club there cheering him on.
“He inspired so many other people with what he did. I know he turned heads and really made others believe it was possible.”
A member of New Forest Runners for three decades, Bruce was hailed as one of the longest standing and most inspirational members. In a tribute club president Michael McCabe said: “Farewell Bruce Davidson, unquestionably our oldest New Forest Runner.
‘He inspired so many other people’
“Bruce was an inspiration to so many people in the club who believed if Bruce could run marathons they could run them too. He was just one of those people.
“The New Forest Runners will keep building on Bruce’s running legacy.”
Born in Canada in August 1921, Bruce was the youngest of four siblings with two sisters and a brother. His parents had met on the ship when they were emigrating to Canada, and his father later went on to set up a library in Vancouver.
Sadly Bruce’s mother died when he was five years old, and unable to cope with four young children, his father sent them away to boarding school.
Sport became a big part of Bruce’s childhood and he remembered running at Grouse Mountain just outside Vancouver when he was a small boy.
When he was 10, Bruce’s father also died, and along with his siblings he returned to the UK to live with his unmarried aunt and grandmother in a large Georgian house where The Furlong in Ringwood was later built.
Bruce was sent to Winton House Prep School in Winchester, before undertaking his senior studies at St Edwards School in Oxford.
His widow Zoe said: “Bruce was always incredibly sporty – he was captain of the rugby team, captain of games and his school record for long jump was unbeaten for 40 years.”
After finishing school Bruce read history at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he continued to excel at rugby and running.
However, his education was cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War; he enlisted in the 21st Lancers, serving in North Africa and Italy. However, after contracting pleurisy he was sent home to recover.
Bruce moved to Cornwall where he worked on a farm and played rugby for Penzance, while living in a caravan. He then moved to London, but realising the caravan industry was likely to boom, he opened a business on the main London to Brighton Road selling caravans as well as offering repairs and servicing.
A huge sports car enthusiast, Bruce owned a number of prestigious vehicles including a SS100 Jaguar, a Lagonda and a Roll Royce – however he didn’t keep the Rolls for too long because he joked that he couldn’t afford the chauffeur!
Bruce met his wife Zoe, who had grown up in Friars Cliff, Christchurch, through friends and they married at Holy Trinity Church in Brompton in September 1954, before driving to Italy in his Allard sports car for their honeymoon.
They then made their home in Sussex where they raised their two children – daughter Noelle born in 1955 and their son Andrew who was born in 1958.
Bruce continued to build up the business and over the years got to know all the owners of the big caravan companies personally.
The family would often return to the New Forest to visit relatives – travelling in a touring caravan with their cats, budgies and dogs accompanying them. They later visited the West Country for holidays and when the children were older they kept a caravan in the South of France.
After Bruce retired and sold his business, he and Zoe decided to return to their roots, buying a house in Bransgore. Soon afterwards Bruce was inspired to start running after watching the London Marathon – although he initially though his wartime pleurisy may cause problems.
He began his training at the old railway track between Burley and Holmsley, and once he felt ready he signed up for a race in Bramshaw – which was organised to mark a visit by Olympian Zola Budd ahead of the 1984 Games.
Bruce’s next challenge was the Bournemouth half-marathon, where he realised he was being overtaken by a significant number of New Forest Runners!
Zoe recalled: “He thought these New Forest Runner must be pretty serious so he rang to see if he would be too old to join them. But everyone was so welcoming to him and he never looked back.”
After starting out with half marathons Bruce went on to complete around 40 full marathons including seven London marathons, two in New York as well as events in Paris, Athens, Rheims and the mountains of Norway.
He was also invited to the European Veterans Championships in Norway and Athens where he competed in all the track events as well as the marathons.
Over the years he secured many awards including finishing second in the 80-year-old age group at the 2002 European 10km Championship and claiming the Peter Harper Award for Endeavour. He was chosen as one of the runners to take part in the Queen’s Jubilee Baton Relay in 2000.
Despite undergoing a double hip replacement in the late 1990s Bruce was able to return to running within four months and undertook marathons, half marathons 10k and 5k races. He even managed to complete a 5k race after having a pacemaker fitted in 2016
Bruce was a member of the New Forest Marathon Committee for many years and was a winner of New Forest Runners Personality of the Year.
Zoe said: “The New Forest Runners were wonderful – he met so many great friends and the running kept him strong and fit for so many years. He loved the competition but the friendship and comradery was just as important.”
In retirement Bruce also kept fit by helping out with his son Andrew’s landscape gardening business. He and Zoe were both big animal lovers – keeping cats, chickens and dogs – including several St Bernard’s.
Off the track Bruce enjoyed watching sport, particularly athletics, tennis, rugby and cricket. He was also a lifelong Arsenal fan and kept his brain active with The Times crossword.
Family was also hugely important to Bruce and he was very proud of his grandchildren Naomi and David and great grandson Alex.
Bruce and Zoe marked their 65th wedding anniversary in September, but sadly Bruce was taken ill soon afterwards. He died in the Royal Bournemouth Hospital and is survived by his wife, children, grandchildren and great grandson.
A thanksgiving service for will take place at All Saints Church, Thorney Hill, at midday on Friday 6th December, which all are welcome to attend.