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28th Aug, 2022, Alastair Aitken

MAUREEN BONANNO-SMITH (10/7/35 to 16/8/22) achieved much in her life and became a Freeman of the City of London because of that.

It was only a few years ago that she was guiding athletes at the finish of major cross-countries at Parliament Hill. She had been an international runner on the country and the track but even more than that she was a pioneer for women's athletics in the UK. She was a founder member of the British Milers Club and the first woman to be in that club in any official capacity. One of the many voluntary jobs she did was to be a guide in St Paul's Cathedral, amongst other things she did in the City, which she duly received awards for.

One year she was in Highgate Harriers winning team in the National cross country but it was on the track she was most impressive. Not many would realiSe she was only the second woman ever to break 5 minutes for the mile.

That was on the 19th of July 1957. The winner of that race, Diane Leather, was the first woman to run inside 5 minutes (in 1954) and in second place also inside five minutes was Maureen Bonanno (Smith). Their times that night were 4:50.6 and 4:53.0 respectively. That was at the White City Stadium. It was in that year, 1957, that she married her husband David Smith and their daughter Beverley was born in 1960. The next year, 1958, at Motspur Park, Maureen won the WAAA Mile in 5:02.6 finishing ahead of Madeline Ibbotson, Diane Leather (the World record holder) and Joy Jordan.

She was chosen to officiate at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane and she was part of the Team Management in a top international road relay in Japan. In many of her later years Eric Nash, a senior Southern official and City Director helped her with advice in the City and with athletics, as a valuable friend. But how did she sum her life in athletics up? Speaking to me in 2008, she told me:

"To me athletics has been my life and an absolute joy and being made the President of the English Cross Country Association (in 2008) has been the icing on the cake. I have been President of my club Highgate Harriers, Middlesex County twice, President of the South of England CC Association. When I first started with the Women's Cross Country Association, it was actually the Women's Cross Country, Road Running and Walking Association, all three disciplines. We have progressed from those early days to the amalgamation of the Men and Women's Association into the English Cross Country Association.”

“All through my athletics - track, field, cross-country and road - I have been one of the few to cover all those disciplines, to compete, officiate and be a Team Manager in all of them. It has been hard work but I have loved every moment of it. Would I do it again? I certainly would. I have made so many friends with competitors, athletes and officials and I certainly hold them in high regard as friends that always will remain with me."