It is with great sadness that the Halberg Foundation acknowledges Sir Murray Halberg (ONZ) has died.  He was 89.

Sir Murray will be remembered as one of New Zealand’s greatest-ever athletes. The Olympic and Commonwealth gold medal winner also founded the Halberg Foundation. Launched in 1963, the Foundation was set up to enhance the lives of physically disabled young New Zealanders through sport and recreation. 

Sir Murray was also responsible for re-invigorating the New Zealand’s Sportsman of the Year Awards, now known as the ISPS Handa Halberg Awards.

It is well recognised that Sir Murray exemplified the human spirit triumphing over adversity.  As a teenager he badly injured his arm during a game of rugby. But he found the mental toughness to battle his way back to recovery.  He turned from cricket and rugby to running, where his feats on the track spanning more than a decade, captured the hearts of New Zealanders.

Sir Murray was part of the Arthur Lydiard coaching programme, which was based on endurance training and periodisation. He first came to prominence in the 1950’s as a world class mile runner.  Sir Murray competed at the Empire Games in Vancouver in 1954 and the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956, before winning gold in the three miles at the 1958 Cardiff Empire Games.  That same year, he was also the first New Zealander to run a mile in under four minutes.

However, his greatest success was gold in the 5000 metres at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.  He won by 1.25 seconds and secured the gold that Lydiard had predicted. He employed his previous successful tactics by sprinting the last three laps. This called for boldness and tenacity which are traits that Sr Murray has continued to utilise in his business and charity work following his athletic retirement.

Sir Murray’s deeds transcend sport, and it was his selfless dedication to the welfare of disabled children in New Zealand, expressed through the work of his charity, which can be argued has equalled his legacy on the track.

After attending a fundraising dinner in Canada for children with disabilities, Sir Murray was inspired on his return to New Zealand to create a similar charitable event.  The following year, Sir Murray rallied friends and colleagues to help resurrect the then defunct ‘Sportsman of the Year Awards’, as a fundraising dinner for his newly created charity. The ISPS Handa Halberg Awards now stand as the pre-eminent event to honour and celebrate New Zealand sporting success and continues to be the major fundraising event for the Halberg Foundation.

Just as sport had a significant impact on Sir Murray’s life, his charity has provided thousands of New Zealanders with the opportunity to reap the benefits of participating in sport and recreation.  He frequently expressed his gratitude to supporters, funders and friends in helping the Halberg Foundation to fulfil his vision of an inclusive New Zealand.

Sir Murray has received multiple awards and accolades for his achievements on and off the running track including:

  •         Sportsman of the Year in 1958
  •         Inaugural recipient of the Lonsdale Cup in 1961
  •         A knighthood in 1987
  •         Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990
  •         Awarded the Blake Medal and the Order of New Zealand (ONZ) in 2008
  •         Awarded the Deloitte Award for Visionary Leadership in 2013.

Halberg Foundation Chief Executive Tom Smith says Sir Murray made an enormous contribution to New Zealand.

“The Halberg team past and present will greatly miss Sir Murray and the inspiration he gave to each and every one of us. Sir Murray was truly dedicated to creating an inclusive New Zealand” he says.

“Sir Murray leaves an amazing legacy.  The Halberg Foundation will continue to strive to ensure that all New Zealanders – regardless of physical ability – can reap the many benefits of being active.”

The Halberg Foundation is well positioned to continue fulfilling Sir Murray’s vision with the support of Governor-General Her Excellency The Rt Hon Dame Cindy Kiro as patron, a dedicated and passionate Halberg team of staff, directors and trustees, alongside the support of generous individuals and organisations.

Halberg Foundation Chair Carolyn Steele says Sir Murray was always focused on the benefits of sport.

“Sir Murray would often reflect on the benefits he gained being involved in sport. It is a credit to him that he enabled others to experience those same benefits, through his charity over the past 59 years,” she says.

Sir Murray was an incredible man who achieved much in his lifetime. The impact of his foundation will continue for many years to come. Our thoughts are with Lady Phyllis and his family.”

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