Fish Hoek’s ‘galloping granny’ dies at 97

Mavis Hutchinson

Mavis Hutchinson, 97, a pioneer ultra runner, crossed the final finishing line of her life on Thursday May 20.

Affectionately known as the “galloping granny” Ms Hutchinson, née Vaughan, spent her final days at Nerina Gardens in Fish Hoek.

According to her daughter, Gayle Stone, Ms Hutchinson “spent 97 years in a marathon that saw highs, lows, happiness, and sadness.”

“Her sheer grit and determination were with her right up until the end.”

According to Unstoppable Woman: The forgotten story of Mavis Hutchinson – first woman to run across America, Ms Hutchinson and her identical twin sister, Doreen, were born on November 25, 1924, in Kimberley.

Their father, George Vaughan, was one of the top middle-distance runners in South Africa and a rugby player. He worked for De Beers diamond-mining company.

After contracting rheumatic fever as a child, Ms Hutchinson suffered repeated bouts of ill-health during her teens that required hospitalisation, and she was unable to walk or talk for a time. She had to relearn to walk and talk and entered adulthood somewhat frail.

At the start of World War II, Ms Hutchinson worked at the government mint in Kimberley making tools for the manufacture of weapons. She later moved to Johannesburg where she met and married a miner, Ernest “Ernie” John Hutchison (1916-1991).

Ms Stone says he adored her mother and supported her through all her challenges and would sometimes jokingly refer to himself as “Mr Mavis”.

Between them, they had six children, Ron, Pam, Jess, Allan, Gayle, and Bev. It was when Jess and Allan became interested in athletics in the early 1960s that Ms Hutchinson got involved in the sport.

She became competitive after breaking the record for the 1963 Rand Daily Mail Big Walk.

In 1965, she was, as an unofficial entrant, the third woman in history to finish the 90 kilometres of the Comrades Marathon, and the first since the 1930s. In later years, she completed the race seven more times and went on to set new women’s world records for the 100-mile and 24-hour walk in 1971, and for the 100-mile and 24-hour walk in 1973.

In 1973, she became the first woman to run the 602km from Germiston to Durban. By now, Ms Hutchinson was well known in South Africa as the “galloping granny”.

In 1975, she took a bit over 22 days to run the 1 000 miles (more than1 609km) from Pretoria to Cape Town, and, in 1976, she ran from Germiston to Cape Town, beating her previous time by more than three days.

In 1977, she ran from Musina, formerly Messina, on South Africa’s northern border, to Johannesburg and then made history at the age of 53 when she became the first woman to run across America from Los Angeles to New York City. It took her 69 days, 2 hours, and 40 minutes to run 2871 miles, more than 4 600 km, and, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, that record still stands.

Two years later, she set a new women’s record for the John O’Groats to Land’s End, the full length of the island of Great Britain, once more fighting extreme physical difficulties to reach her goal. Her last long runs were from Pretoria to Cape Town in 1982, and a circuitous 3 200km run around much of South Africa in 1985, starting in Kimberley and ending in Cape Town.

Ms Stone says her mother took part in many World Masters Athletics Championships over the years, starting with the 1977 championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, and culminating in the 2013 championship in Brazil, when she was 89.

The Hutchinsons retired to Fish Hoek in 1980 where they lived together until Mr Hutchinson’s death in 1991. Ms Hutchinson left Fish Hoek for a few years, but eventually returned to live there until her death.

“My mother was an inspiration to so many people, and the family is overwhelmed with messages from people who state that she was the inspiration behind them taking up running,” says Ms Stone.

Nerina Gardens carer Grace Ollewage says Ms Hutchinson taught her to be thankful for every day and not to take people for granted and to always be true to yourself.

“She was the most humble person I came across and she will be missed by everyone.”

Carer Shireen Geldenhuys says Ms Hutchington was a “very bright lady” and it was an honour to care for her.

“She always shared her brightest thoughts with us. I will remember her as a sweet, precious, loving, caring, sincere, and strong person, and she was like a mother to everyone. May her beautiful soul rest in peace.”

Carer Jeanette Mxathule says: “Ms Hutchington was such a loving soul and always said something to make me smile. I will miss her dearly.”

Staff nurse Salome Philander says she was a “lovely resident. Taking care of her was such a joy.”

In a statement, Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Anroux Marais described Ms Hutchinson as “a legend of the running community.”

“Mavis embodied the concept of a life-long athlete. She stayed fit and healthy and continued competing at an unbelievable age. She paved the way for many female athletes and was also a mentor and inspiration to many. She never hesitated to give back to the running community. We are grateful for her contribution to sport and for the legacy she leaves behind. Our condolences go out to Mavis’s family, friends, and all those whose lives were touched by her dedication to the running community.”

Mavis Hutchinson with a copy of Unstoppable Woman: The forgotten story of Mavis Hutchinson – first woman to run across America, written by David and Gillene Laney.