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Harry Winston Jerome was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan on September 30, 1940, and Valerie Jerome, his sister, was born in 1944. Their parents, Harry Vincent Jerome and Elsie Howard, met after the death of John Armstrong “Army” Howard who was Elsie’s father and Harry’s co-worker at the railway. In 1951, the Jerome family moved to North Vancouver, where both Harry and Valerie began their track careers. Valerie ran on the track team at Sutherland Junior High, and, a year later, Harry took up running at North Vancouver High School in 1958. After succeeding in his first track season, Harry was noticed by John Minichiello, a coach for the Vancouver Optimist Striders. Both Harry and Valerie ended up running for the Striders.
While Harry excelled at many sports, his trademarks were his speed and running abilities. He was one of the best sprinters in his day, both within Canada and internationally. At age 18, Harry broke the 31-year-old Canadian record for the 220-yard sprint – held by 1928 double Olympic gold medallist Percy Williams. In 1960, his athletic career became international when he equalled the world record for 100 metres by clocking in at 10.0 seconds at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Saskatoon. Harry and Valerie Jerome both qualified and ran in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. During the semi-finals at the Rome Olympics, Harry collapsed with a torn hamstring. In spite of this injury, he made his return during the indoor season in 1961. During the 1962 Pan-American Games in Perth, Australia, Harry suffered a major leg injury. He underwent surgery for the torn muscle in his left thigh in December 1962 and was unable to compete in the 1963 track season. He was told by orthopedic surgeons that he would never run again; he spent ten weeks in the hospital and months in a cast. During this time, the Harry Jerome Scholarship was created by R.C. Gibbs. In spite of the severity of his injury, Harry made his return to the sport in 1964. At the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, he earned a bronze medal in the 100-metre final. In 1966, at the British Commonwealth Games in Jamaica, he won the 100 metre finals, earning a gold medal. In addition, he also set a world record of 9.1 seconds over 100 yards that year and won a gold medal in the Pan-American Games in 1967. Harry competed in his third Olympics in 1968, representing Canada in Mexico City; however, he finished seventh in the Olympic final. At the end of the 1968 season, he retired, ending a career that included stints as the world’s fastest man in tying the 100 yards world record of 9.3 seconds in 1960. Two years later he lowered it to 9.2 in a memorable day at Vancouver’s Empire Stadium. In 1966, he improved again upon that mark by running 9.1. During his career, he also held the world indoor mark for 60 yards and ran the anchor leg for his University of Oregon relay team that set a world mark in the 4×110-yard relay. After his retirement, he was named “British Columbia’s Athlete of the Century”.
Harry Jerome married Wendy Carole Foster, of Edmonton, in July 1962. He met Wendy at the University of Oregon, and they were married at the Norwood United Church in Edmonton. Wendy graduated from the University of Alberta and took a year of post-graduate work at the University of Oregon, where she met Harry. Harry and Wendy had a daughter, Deborah Jerome. Harry completed a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. at the University of Oregon.
In addition to his athletic career, Harry spent time teaching. In 1964 and 1965, he taught math and science at Richmond Secondary School. In the late 1960s, Harry set up his own track club called the Charlie Brown Track Club. In the 1970s, he taught at Templeton as a Physical Education teacher. Harry was also involved in athletic programming for youth. He worked as a recreation consultant for Sports Canada, a program that worked in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Sport; during this time, Harry became involved in the Cross-Canada Sports Demonstration, a school program, which travelled from coast to coast with the theme “You Can Do It”. In 1971, Harry created the Premier’s Sports Award Program, a program that ran in BC high schools until the early 1980s. In1971, Harry also received the Order of Canada. Harry Jerome died suddenly from a brain aneurysm on December 7, 1982, at age 42.
In addition to her own track career, Valerie Jerome taught for 35 years. After Harry’s death, she began the Harry Jerome Commemorative Society in 1983. The committee fundraised and created a memorial for Harry, a bronze statue, sculpted by Jack Harman, which is situated in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Harry’s legacy still remains with the annual Harry Jerome International Track Classic and the Black Business and Professional Association’s Harry Jerome Awards.
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Created December 17, 2012