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Tributes to Olympic hero Ken Matthews who has passed away aged 84

Tributes have been paid to Olympic hero Ken Matthews MBE who has died at the age of 84.

Wrexham Ken Matthews MBE with his gold medal at Hillbury House earlier this year

Mr Matthews, who won the 20k walking race for Great Britain at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games,  passed away on Sunday at Wrexham Maelor Hospital after being taken ill on Saturday night at Pendine Park’s Hillbury Care Home.

He was diagnosed with vascular dementia in August 2016 and moved to live at Hillbury House in January.

Ken Matthews who won gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964

Mr Matthews leaves his son, Ian, 52, and three grandchildren, Daniel, 23, Georgia, 21, and Joel, 14.

Son Ian was his dad’s full-time carer until January and he had little choice but to move his dad into Hillbury House as he was no longer able to cope with the demands of looking after him.

Ian said: “The family is devastated by his sudden death but his fantastic achievements will never be forgotten and his historic victory in Tokyo will be chronicled in the record books in perpetuity.

“Dad had attended hospital several times within the past 18 months, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the healthcare workers, nurses, doctors and carers at the Maelor Hospital and Hilbury House care home who have looked after him with compassion and professionalism during this time.

He said: “Dementia is an awful condition and it was slowly robbing my Dad of his precious memories.

“The care he received at Hillbury was first class and the staff were all fantastic.

“In recent times Dad struggled to recall the Tokyo Olympics but he recognized the medal and enjoyed looking at it.

“Dad grew up in the Midlands, in Birmingham. My grandfather suggested he take up walking as means of getting fit ahead of his national service. He was always sporty apparently but it became clear he had a real talent for race walking.

“Dad was selected for the Great Britain team for the 1960 Rome Olympics but illness forced him to retire from the race. But he won gold at the 1962 European Championships and then led from the start in Tokyo.

“He actually entered the stadium on his own and won by some considerable distance in a time of 1:29.34. He retired at the top and his race records stood for many, many years.

“He was mostly unbeatable up to 20 km only and he never raced any distances further than that. The British greats at 50km of course were the late Don Thompson and Paul Nihil who is sadly also in a care home now.

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“His greatest rival on the track was the late Stan Vickers but they were great friends off it.”

Ken practicing after work at Hams Hall power station in 1964Ken cycling in 1984

Ian says his dad and late mum, Sheila, moved to Acton Park, Wrexham in 1965 to take up a offer to become the sports and electrical goods manager at Rogers and Jacksons.

He said: “After a number of years he left to work at B.I.C.C where he worked until he retired at the age of 62 to look after my mother whose health had deteriorated.

“My mum went into nursing care following a stroke which left her paralyzed on the left side.

“After many years she developed Alzheimer’s and she passed away in March 2015 which hit Dad extremely hard as he had spent most afternoons visiting her. That was when myself and my children first had major concerns about Dad.

“Dementia is a cruel and devastating disease which affects both the sufferer and the immediate family directly, robbing the person of their precious memories, and loved ones of the person they once knew so well.

Ken’s wife Sheila timing him as he trains

Ian added: “Dad was always sports minded. When he came to Wrexham he played badminton, then  golf, and eventually cycle racing, which had always been his first love.

“He was a member of Wrexham Fibrax Roads Club and competed in time trials at 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles and he achieved some very respectable times at each of these distances including well under an hour for 25 miles.

Ken on the rostrum collecting his gold medal for the 20k walk

“Dad was always a modest person and a true sporting gent. He always appreciated people just remembering his greatest achievement.

“He was an MBE in the late 1970s following a campaign by Dave Ainsworth and the Race Walking association, of which Dad was president for the Olympic year 2012.

“Dad was a true sportsman, a gentleman and, to us personally, a dedicated family man.”

According to Hillbury manager Cindy Clutton,  Mr Matthews was popular with other residents and staff.

She said: “It was a real privilege to look after Ken since he moved to live with us here at Hillbury  in January.

“A couple of months back Ian very kindly brought his gold medal in for us all to see and it was clearly something Ken liked to hold, look at and handle.

“To win any gold medal needs dedication and talent and we were honoured to have Ken living with us at Hillbury House. We will miss him greatly.”

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