Paula Radcliffe joins tributes to great Bedfordian, Iva Barr (1927 – 2020)

Iva Barr, taking part in the 2012 Olympic torch relay in Bedford

Friends and fellow runners – including Paula Radcliffe – have shared their tributes to a truly great Bedfordian, Iva Barr, who sadly passed away on Tuesday 17 November aged 93.

A well-known figure around Bedford, Iva took up running at the age of 55 and became the oldest person to take part in the London Marathon when she was 88.

Born on 23 October 1927 in Portsmouth, Iva worked at Silver Jubilee School and Castle Lower School in Bedford, retiring in 1991.

She entered her first, and the second ever, London Marathon in 1982 and according to her Olympic torch bearer nomination, her reason for entering was because her son wanted to run it, but he didn’t get a place and she did.

The nomination says, ‘She wasn’t sure that she could run it but took the view if she couldn’t run she could always walk.

‘So Iva successfully ran her first marathon in her son’s old plimsolls from BHS.

‘In 1986 Iva joined the Bedford Harriers and went on to run more than 80 marathons, her last entry being in 2016 when, aged 88, she ran 14 miles of the London Marathon.

Iva Barr
Iva with her London Marathon medal. (Image: Bedford Harriers/Facebook)

‘Her reason for running was the fantastic feel-good factor after finishing a run, she said, “I wish I could bottle that feeling and let people who don’t feel that way have a bit.”

‘She also enjoyed the atmosphere and camaraderie from belonging to a club and the company of people of all ages.’

Steve Crane, chair of the Bedford Harriers, told the Bedford Independent that Iva called the Harriers her family.

“Iva was a great ambassador for the club and whenever she was interviewed, always managed to get a mention of the Harriers into the conversation.

“Whenever we’d travel to a race, members of other running clubs would always immediately ask if Iva was coming along. It was fun to be there and Iva was part of making it fun.

“Although she wanted to do well, she’d always rather encourage others than try to beat them.”

Over the years, Iva raised money for many charities including Macmillan, Marie Curie, Keech Cottage, Bedford Hospitals Charities and Veteran Forces Project 65.

Her Olympic torch relay nomination said, ‘Her philosophy was that ‘you can always find a reason for not doing things, don’t look for problems’.

‘She was a volunteer at Bedford Daycare Hospice where she liked to chat to the patients, do quizzes and crosswords with them, made tea and helped with lunch.

‘She worked for a charity giving out soup and sandwiches to the homeless in Bedford, and got to know a lot of them well, recognising that anyone could find themselves in such a situation.

‘An utterly amazing woman.’

Unsurprisingly, the nomination was successful, and in 2012, Iva took part in the Olympic torch relay when it passed through Bedford on its way to London.

Despite terrible weather that July day, Iva absolutely lit up the street.

In a comment on their website, Bedford Harriers running club, said, “It is with great sadness that we have learned that our fellow Harrier and friend, Iva Barr, passed on Tuesday 17 November at the grand age of 93.

“Iva was a member of Bedford Harriers from the early days and only stopped running a few years ago.

“As well as being an ambassador for the Club, Iva also encouraged, and was an inspiration to many older and younger runners.

“RIP Iva, we shall all miss you!”

Former Harrier and world record-breaking marathon runner, Paula Radcliffe, said, “Iva was such a lively, fun and motivated figure growing up and seeing her running up and down the embankment and around Barkers Lane, always with that infectious grin.

“She inspired so many and is truly a London marathon heroine and legend.

“Her memory and legend will long live on and I am sure her spirit continues to as well. My thoughts and sincere condolences go out to her family and friends. RIP Iva.”

Mayor Dave Hodgson described Iva as ‘a genuine local hero’ who gave her time and energy to supporting countless community activities and events. He described her fund-raising and athletic exploits as ‘truly inspirational’.

“It was an honour to present Iva with her richly deserved lifetime achievement award at the Bedford Sports Awards in 2016,” said Mayor Dave.

“Iva was also a tremendous ambassador for Bedford, with her remarkable efforts drawing admiration from across the country and beyond.

“My thoughts are with her loved ones at this time.”

Continues below…

Iva Barr portrait by Oliver Winconek
Oliver Winconek’s portrait of Iva Barr

Bedfordshire artist, Oliver Winconek painted Iva’s portrait and shared his memories of meeting her.

“When I first contacted Iva to explain that I wanted to paint her portrait, I was immediately met with the comment of “Well it’s a very lovely idea but why me?”

“She was completely humble of all she had achieved and had no ego and it was a great experience getting to meet Iva on the day of the photoshoot.

“We sat in her garden with the sun streaming down on her face as she started to reminisce about why she had started running and her motivation for continuing. It certainly seemed like charity and the desire to help others was at the forefront of it as well as a need to keep going and pushing herself.”

When Oliver showed Iva the finished painting, she said, “I can’t believe it, she looks more like me than I do.”

Among all her other achievements, Iva took part in her first ever 5km Parkrun just two years ago, at the age of 91, potentially making her the oldest Parkrun debutante and the oldest female to complete a Parkrun.

The occasion is recalled on the Penrith Parkrun’s website, alongside this video of Iva crossing the finishing line.

“We were informed of a Parkrun first timer, fantastic but nothing out of the ordinary, or so we thought.

“We were given a bit of background on this new runner, she had completed a fair few marathons but this would be Iva’s first Parkrun.”

Iva approached the finishing line to warm applause from other runners, summing up what an inspiration she was to everyone she met.