Proud legacy in sport
History-making New Zealand pre-war Empire Games track and field medallist Rona McCarthy (nee Tong) died in Havelock North recently, aged 99.
As Rona Tong, she was 21 when she came third in the Empire Games women’s 80 yards hurdles at the Sydney Cricket Ground on February 4, 1938. That day she and high jump third placegetter Elizabeth (Betty) Forbes became New Zealand’s first female medallists at the Empire, Commonwealth or Olympic Games.
She celebrated her 99th birthday in August at Mary Doyle Lifecare, the Havelock North resthome where she kept the silver-ferned singlet and blazer, and her weighty bronze medal.
Among her keepsakes was the small knife she used to scrape out her foothold at the start, in the days before starting blocks became a regular part of the athlete’s kit, and long-before all-weather tracks.
The advent of World War II, which meant there were no Olympic Games in 1940 and 1944, nor Empire Games in 1942, blocked her path to full global recognition, but she maintained her sporting involvement and achievement, which ultimately led to her being awarded an MBE in the 1979 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Rona was named a national representative in netball and basketball (then known as basketball and indoor basketball). She coached athletics and netball, became a prominent official and was made a Hastings netball umpires association life member in 1967.
She later took to bowls, becoming a president of Hastings’ Kia Toa Bowling Club.
In 2007 she was inducted into Hawke’s Bay sport’s Unison Hall of Fame.
Born in Hastings, Rona was the daughter of funeral director Ossie and Florence Tong (nee Jarden). She started school at Haumoana, and was at Hastings High School when the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake struck on the first day of school in 1931.
She ﬁrst worked in dressmaking, and worked at Bon Marche. She married Les McCarthy at St Matthew’s Church, Hastings, on November 7, 1939.
Mrs McCarthy is survived by daughter Karin Campbell, of Havelock North, grandson Aaron Campbell, of Onga Onga and granddaughter Janine Varcoe of Havelock North, and six great-grandchildren.
Caption- PROUD LEGACY : The late Rona McCarthy with her bronze medal and singlet from the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney.