A memorial service will be held for Olympian swimmer Toy Gillespie (née Myburgh) tomorrow, Friday, January 24, at the Premier Hotel. Gillespie passed away in the early hours of Tuesday morning, January 21 at Knysna Private Hospital after a losing battle with cancer.
Gillespie was not yet 14 years old when she was selected to represent South Africa at the Empire Games in Vancouver in 1954 and soon Natalie Anne 'Toy' Myburgh became a household name. Gillespie was the first woman to break the 60-second mark in the 100 yards and was a South African record holder in the 100m, 200m and 400m. She was part of the South African Spingbok swimming team which competed at the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956, the Empire Games in Whales in 1958, as well as the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960.
The former South African swimming sensation was at home with her husband Ron until Sunday afternoon, January 19, when her condition deteriorated to the extent that Hospice recommended she be taken to hospital.
"Our neighbours in Brenton-on-Sea have been absolutely exceptional and so supportive. And Dr Francois Bruwer and the all the staff of Knysna Provinsial Hospital, fantastic. Thank you so much," said a bereaved Ron Gillespie. "My wife was always very modest and never spoke about her achievements."
Ron and Toy were married for 54 years and had for many years had their own successful swimming school for the communities of Springs, Delmas and Devin, before moving to the Garden Route. They have two children, Dean and Nikki. The Gillespies have been a well-loved couple in the close-knit community of Brenton-on-Sea.
Born 15 May 1940 – passed away 21 January 2014
Toy grew up on the Marievale gold mine. Went to school in Nigel when finished moved to Springs Technical College to concentrate on shorthand typing and English language.
The gold mines generally had excellent sports facilities and competed with one another in bowls, tennis, golf, swimming, etc. It was at one of the inter mine galas that Toy was noticed and was asked to try out in the Transvaal team in 1953 at 12 years old. (the rest is history). She competed in the Bloemfontein Currie Cup, and then the 1953-54 championships, wining both the 100 and 220 yards final – selected to represent South Africa at the Empire Games in Canada. Springbok at 13 years old, turned 14 before the trip and won a gold medal.
There are two factors which interact to form every personality. The first comprises those qualities which nature endows us with. The are the priceless gifts which in the wonderful process of life we receive without asking. Toy had the complete package, a determined mind set to finish whatever she started.
Nobody taught her to swim, nobody showed her how to stroke or kick, her freestyle was hers. Her father only became interested when she started winning at inter mine galas.
1954 SA Champ 100 and 200. 1955 SA Champ 100 and 200. 1956 New SA record in 100 and 200, and won the 400. 1957 Eastern Transvaal started Toy as captain at Currie Cup in Bulawayo. 1958 Currie Cup final SA Champ.
1960 New SA records in the 200 and 400 both long and short course. I think at that stage she was the longest serving Springbok.
I took her to Northern Rhodesia and she started swimming and did not lose a race anywhere; it was already decided she would captain the Rhodesian team to the Currie Cup in South Africa, and then she set her mind to compete in the Empire Games team representing her new found home in in the Rhodesian team. Not to be, swam in a gala at Chingola, middle lane won by mile, one of the time keepers extended a hand to help her out of the pool, but unfortunately jerked her out and displaced one of disks in her back, rushed to hospital where she stayed for a week and that was the end of her swimming. It was years before she could swim properly.
There were very few professional swimming coaches during Toy’s early years of training, her father read many books on swimming and tried out different methods and to his credit succeeded to a great degree. He was lucky his daughter was endowed with the priceless gift of a determined mind set to finish successfully what she had started. The only pro coach we knew was Cecil Colwin who coached at the Hillbrow pool, the only heated pool in the countryand had the pick of the Transdvaal swimers who did really wel representing the country. He wrote a book I 1968, Toy is hardly mentioned in his book, which I found disappointing, he talks about her unofficial world record set in October 1956, and she conformed with all the international standards/ Unlike Dawn Fraser’s time.
When Toy arrived in Austarlia she was recognized as the world record holder, our South African officials screwed up badly, did nothing to rectify the mistake.
The Australian team had apparently been at a special training camp for six months before the Games, best trainers, foof, doctors, everything, have to give