Rex Harvey dies at 73; decathlete-turned-official was a beloved leader in masters track

Rex Harvey deserves a special recognition in world masters track — perhaps an award in his honor. Any suggestions?

If masters track had a Mount Rushmore, it would includes David Pain, Al Sheahen and Rex Harvey. On Sunday — two weeks after enduring the flu many caught at the USATF annual meeting in Reno — Rex died of a heart attack in Prescott, Arizona, where he was recovering from appendix cancer. He was 73. I don’t know if the flu weakened Rex, but on Dec. 12 he wrote me: “Today I ate for the first time in 5 days but still feeling woozy around the edges.”

When I learned of Rex’s passing via Facebook, my heart sank 1,000 miles. Rex was way more than a former national-class decathlete who set world masters records in the combined events (don’t dare call them multi-events, he’d say). Our Masters Committee national chair since 2016 was a Hall of Famer in more ways that I can count, including the USATF Officials Hall of Fame. When his storied deca career was done, he became a world-class official and, as a WMA vice president, helped save several World Masters Athletics meets from local organizing committee disasters.

In July 2017, Rex replied to a question about his cancer status:

“I am very happy that there are further measures we can take to arrest, or eliminate this cancer. It is slow growing and not particularly invasive, but it can kill you by growing so big that it crowds out other vital organs. I don’t see it affecting my volunteer work for Masters Track & Field any other than the few days of treatment and checkups that it will entail. I kept normal activity through 24 chemo treatments and don’t anticipate this to be any worse, and probably better. I plan no lifestyle changes other than those that normal aging puts on me (and you) every day.”

Most of all, he was a ceaseless booster of our niche sport. Only a few months ago, he called me to ask about a wind reading for M100 Don Pellmann’s long jump world record —needing it for his continuing chore of upgrading the Age-Graded Tables. Rex has been part of AGT overhauls since the early 1990s. (He was the M40 world deca champ at 1989 Eugene worlds.)

A book noted Rex’s engineering expertise.

Rex took 13th in the 1976 Eugene Olympic Trial decathlon (won by Bruce Jenner in a then world record). Rex scored 7310 points. But his impact on the event was anything but modest.

The Des Moines Register told of how Rex urged Kip Janvrin to try the decathlon.

The story related that when Kip first took the Drake Relays deca title, he gave the watch he won to his mother. “The second went to his grandmother,” it said. “The third, to Harvey, who never won the decathlon at Drake.”

By all rights, Rex should have been president of World Masters Athletics for eight years. He lost by a single vote at 2009 Lahti worlds. But Rex didn’t stew over the fact Australia’s Stan Perkins and allies stole the election. (I barely skimmed the surface of their perfidy.)

My vivid memories of Rex include watching him fill the steeplechase water barrier just so, carefully setting up the oddly spaced shuttle hurdles, and showing sympathy for me after I clobbered a high jump standard at Oshkosh nationals, requiring stitches in my balding head. He kept an eagle eye on events as a green-shirted Games Committee member at masters nationals and did anything he could to help keep the meets running on time.

I was happy to see USATF issue a press release the night of his death, quoting CEO Max Siegel as saying: “Rex’s passing is a tremendous loss for the organization. His unwavering passion and tireless commitment were evident in every aspect of the sport that he touched. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Jerry Bookin-Weiner, who will serve as chair until the next election, in 2020, said: “Over the past three years, I have come to know, respect and love Rex as we worked together to advance the masters’ track and field movement in the US. He leaves a huge hole in our community that will be almost impossible to fill.”

Al Sheahen (left) with Rex also ran for president of World Masters Athletics, then called WAVA.

Around the world, tributes began flowing in.

Former National Masters News publisher Suzy Hess Wojcik wrote: “Deeply sorry to have lost a wonderful friend. He was a great administrator, athlete, official and friend to all. RIP dear Rex! You will be greatly missed!!”

Serge Beckers of Belgium, who succeeded Rex as WMA VP for stadia, wrote: “I have learned a lot from him. It is with sadness that I read this news. I am sorry for his family for their loss, as we all will miss him.”

Tracy Sundlun, co-founder of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon Series and a team manager for the Rio Olympic track team, said: “I can’t take this anymore. Another one of the great ones has left us. I am in tears. Oh my God!”

Becca Gillespy Peter, the USATF activist and meet director, said: “Rex was probably one of the very first people to begin talking about the women’s decathlon, decades ago. Our first open champs, in Grass Valley 2018, happened almost entirely because of his efforts. I just spoke with him in Reno a couple of weeks ago. Can’t believe he is gone.”

Especially painful was Rex died a day after we lost another great — M70 hurdler Ty “Rip” Brown.”

And Rex passed on the birthday of Linda Sheldon Pain, wife of the masters track founder, who died in February.

Rex also made a name for himself at Parker-Hannafin, his longtime employer where he was credited with more than a dozen patents.

I’m not familiar with Rex’s family, but according to National Masters News and Spokeo.com, he had a daughter named Keelie and other immediate relatives named Dawn Harvey, Joan Harvey, Jared Harvey and maybe Junior Harvey.

His sense of humor emerged in our email exchanges.

After I wrote him for details of the Reno annual meeting, he said: You should have been there!

When I replied that I had to work to pay the bills but would have more time in retirement, he said: “Sorry to remind you, but even after you retire, a lot of those bills will still have to be paid. You may have to move out of LA-LA Land.”

So I answered: “I’ll move in with YOU, Rex! See U soon!”

To which he replied: “I need some help building the barn/garage/workshop/storage/Guest Apartment. As for now I am mostly in a RV. It will be a little crowded.”

Now Masters Track Heaven got a little more crowded, with Rex in his green shirt making sure all the weights are measured, lanes drawn right and bars ready to rise.

Dammit, we’ll miss you.

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About the Author

Ken Stone
Ken has followed track as an athlete, writer and webmaster since the late 1960s, and saw most sessions of track and field at the 1984 Los Angeles and 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He also attended the 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Trials. He worked for 10 newspapers and now reports for Times of San Diego. Write him at TrackCEO@aol.com or kens@timesofandiego.com. Story tips always welcome!

16 Comments on "Rex Harvey dies at 73; decathlete-turned-official was a beloved leader in masters track"

  1. Thanks for sharing about Rex. In 1976 I was a high school kid who entered my first decathlon, having never touch a javelin before (California banned them). Rex saw my struggle and took the time (he was waiting to vault) to show me a basic grip. God bless the Harvey family and thank you Rex for all you did for the sport.

  2. I am absolutely shocked. I was thinking about Rex last night, and now he has departed this earth. Rex could do it all, including doing EVERY event well, inspiring others in masters track and field, and befriending the great and small. What a wonderful man he was. Again, I am in shock.

    I knew Rex for many years; I am stricken with grief.

    Peter L. Taylor

  3. I never met either Rex or Ty Brown but from all accounts they both sound like great human beings. I know this is cliched but take the time to tell your friends and family how much they mean to you and this holiday season think about mending fences because you never know if suddenly they are gone. I have a former friend and I haven’t spoken to them in years. We had a bad misunderstanding and it festered. I don’t know if they will be receptive but I will reach out anyway. Thanks Rex for all you did for masters track and thank you Ty for being a great competitor. RIP to both.

  4. Rex had held the record for most open decathlons and most all time points in the open decathlon.

    In 2018 Rex was building a home (almost building it alone). Was there anything he couldn’t do ?

    Rex made many great memories.

    He will be missed.

    Prayers for his family.

  5. Christa Bortignon | December 23, 2019 at 11:27 am | Reply

    So shocking and sad. Rex was one of the first to welcome me into the masters track and field community when I started. I will miss you.

  6. David E. Ortman (M66) | December 23, 2019 at 1:32 pm | Reply

    Yes. Quite a shock. I first saw Rex when he won the M45 Pent at the National Masters Outdoor Meet in Spokane in 1992. He was my inspiration for trying this event. Condolences to his family and many, many friends around the world. He will be missed.

  7. I remember Rex as a welcoming person, especially with my attending from Edmonton Alberta for many track meets around the United States. He made me, as a Canadian participant feel an equal part of the US Masters Indoors and Outdoors. I will not forget him

  8. WOW! Rex! Rex! Rex! We go back as kids in High School and often talked about Track and Field before the days of WAVA. Was it possible, athletes could compete or participate in Track and Field beyond High School, College, and Olympics. Thus; Rex Harvey: One of the founding fathers of Masters Track and Field. REX! I salute and thank you, for the thousands of people around the world who participate in your idea and concept.

  9. Two giants of our sport. I have always had the greatest respect for these two as competitors who demonstrated the qualities of humility and kindness that we hope for in our champions. You will be missed.

  10. Bridget CUSHEN | December 24, 2019 at 1:30 am | Reply

    We all at British Masters Athletics were saddened to hear this terrible news and offer our sincere condolence to his wife and family. Rex will be fondly remembered for his huge contribution to our sport, as a competitor; as an elected WMA Council Member and IAAF Masters Committee member. Rest in peace our much loved friend.

  11. What a shock. My first thoughts this morning were about what I could answer on his last mail from friday. Rex and I are doing the bulk of work in the design of the new age gradings for 2020. We have had many fruitful discussions this year, hundreds of mails. And he had many other responsabilities, it’s all cut off unexpectedly. It’s very very sad, my condolences to all. My first contact with him has been around 2001when he was designing the 2002 gradings, many contacts by mail and in real life during championships followed. I was looking forward to meet him somewhere after we had finished the new tables. It’s such a big loss…

  12. What an incredible loss for Masters T&F and to the sport as a whole! I was fortunate enough to have worked with Rex as an official at championship meets before he became chair, but he was so helpful in so many different ways over the years. More recently Rex co-sponsored our Apprentice Referees program that seeks to increase the number of women and underrepresented minority officials who can serve as referees at major championship meets, and at the Perth Worlds he thoughtfully worked with Sandy Pashkin to have the meet officials reverse the direction of the heptathlon long jump so that Irene could have a chance of breaking the world record there (she did). Rex sometimes anticipated my requests for his help and always responded immediately whenever I asked. He was a great chair, and perhaps more importantly just a wonderful human being. “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

  13. Bob Osterhoudt | December 26, 2019 at 5:19 pm | Reply

    There wasn’t anything Rex valued, and he valued many grand things, that he could not do well, in many cases better than anyone else could do them. His capacity for hard and challenging tasks was peerless. He was among the kindest, most generous, most intelligent, most diligent, and most decent people there have been. He was the bright face and the inviting heart of masters track and field for many of us. Most of us will not be difficult to replace; Rex is not in that category. He was a great man, a brilliant administrator and official, and a surpassing athlete. Our profound respect, admiration, and affection for him, our deep gratitude to him, and our immense grief at his passing are unconditional.

  14. I didn’t know Rex personally but I heard many stories about meets that he personally salvaged. No doubt he will be missed and the standard he set is a high one. The loss of Ty Brown feels more personal. We competed head to head over the course of nine years and the results went back and forth. He was a great teammate in relays and willingly shared some of the finer points of track competition. I will miss him as a friend and competitor.

  15. Ken Brown, I appreciate your thoughtful comments about the wonderful Ty Brown. For some reason I have found very little information about his passing, including the date, cause of death, etc.

    Ty was a terrific hurdler and sprinter, but he never told another competitor that he was better than they were. He was a wonderful guy, and I was always happy to see him and briefly talk to him at our meets.

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