Lon Spurrier

1932 – 2015 | Obituary

Lonnie V. Spurrier (Lon), a proud Cal graduate who set the world’s record in the 880 yard run in 1955, passed away peacefully on June 23rd at the age of 83. A world class athlete, he represented the United States in the 800 meters, during the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne Australia, coming in 6th.

Lon was born on May 27, 1932 in the rural farming community of Douglas County, Missouri. He was one of six children of John and Golda Spurrier, who migrated to the Central Valley of California during the Dust Bowl, eventually settling in the agricultural town of Delano, about a half-hour north of Bakersfield. Following in the footsteps of his two older brothers, he loved playing sports, and by the time he graduated from Delano High in 1950 he had established himself as an all-around athlete playing Varsity Football as halfback, Basketball (named outstanding defensive player of the year), and both Baseball and Track. Lon was also active socially in high school where he was Student Council President and voted by classmates as best all-around senior boy. In his senior year, he was encouraged by his high school coach to switch from Baseball to Track, where he participated in a wide variety of events. Track proved a natural fit, and by the end of the season he’d set the school record in the low hurdles, and finished 6th place in the California State meet in the 440, the third time he’d ever ran that distance.

It was at the University of California at Berkeley, under the tutelage of legendary Cal track coach Brutus Hamilton, that Spurrier’s newfound interest in track flourished. He won the Pacific Coast Conference 800 title in 1952 and tied for third in the NCAA that year. In 1954, in a remarkable event, he was on one of two college relay teams that broke the 4×880 (2 mile relay) world’s record time. The Cal relay team (Al Baeta, Ed Wilson, Len Simpson, and anchored by Spurrier), finished in 2nd place, with a time of 7:28.5, just 1.2 seconds behind the Fordham team. Both teams broke the world’s record time which had been previously set by a group of Olympians. He was named an All-American.

On March 26, 1955, on the clay and cinder track at UC Berkeley’s Edwards Stadium, Spurrier broke the world’s record in the half-mile with a time of 1:47.5. Just two weeks earlier, on March 12,1955 he had won a silver medal in the 800 at the Pan American Games in Mexico City, and ran on the gold medal winning 4×400 relay team. His coach, Brutus Hamilton, felt that if he could run 1:50.5 at altitude in Mexico City, that Spurrier might be able to break 1:48 at sea level in Berkeley. His hunch proved correct when Spurrier finished at 1:47.5 in Berkeley later that month, breaking the world’s record. In 1956, he ran on two world’s record setting relay teams: the 4 x 440 yard (mile relay), and he anchored the 4 x 880 yard (two-mile relay) record setting team. And, in the 1956 Olympics, Spurrier finished 6th in the 800 meters while also one of six members of the US 1,600 meter relay team that won the gold medal. He was inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998.

After graduating from Cal, he joined the US Air Force where he earned his wings as a jet pilot and the rank of Lieutenant. He attended Harvard Business School, and moved to Manhattan where he began his career in financial management on Wall Street, before returning to the Bay Area and making his home in Orinda.

Friends, family, and teammates remember Lon as a great friend, a mentor, and a very upbeat person. He remained physically active throughout his adult life, playing tennis and continuing to run until he suffered a serious back injury in his late 60’s. He was an avid fan of UC Berkeley athletics and regularly attended Cal football games and track meets throughout his life. He went on to become the President of the Big C Society.

Lon is survived by his loving wife, Ida Lee Spurrier, and their two children: Randy Spurrier and Dana Spurrier. Lon also leaves behind two grandchildren, Jack Spurrier and Amelia Spurrier. In addition, Lon leaves behind many treasured life-long friends, neighbors, business colleagues, and teammates.