Herbert Henry McKenley was born July 10, 1922, in Clarendon, Jamaica. His father was a doctor and wanted his son to become one, too. His mother wanted him to be a violinist. Starting him with lessons at age 12, she sent him to a teacher two and a half miles away. Rather than wait for a bus, Herbert got there faster by running.
He was a Jamaican athlete, winner of a gold medal in the 4×400 m relay at the 1952 Summer Olympics. McKenley ran the new world record in 440 yd (400 m) of 46.0, a record he broke again a month later, clocking 45.9.
But at the Olympics McKenley finished only second in 400 m, behind teammate Arthur Wint and was fourth in 200 m. He probably lost a gold medal in the 4×400 m relay when Wint pulled his muscle in the final. He is the only person to have made the final in all three sprinting events, the 100 metres, 200 metres and 400 metres in the same Olympics.
During his high school years, he ran 400 meters in 51.6 seconds, and a track career was born. He became the first Jamaican sprinter to receive a college scholarship in the United States and earned a bachelor’s degree from Illinois. He later became a track coach and administrator in his native Jamaica, and maintained a guiding hand in the track and field program at his alma mater, Calabar High School.
He attended Boston College and won the AAU Championship in 1945 and 1947-48, after finishing as runner-up in 1944 and 1946. He was Jamaica’s most widely recognised sporting personality and was appointed to the Jamaican Order of Merit in 2004.
During 1947 and 1948, he set the individual world record on three occasions, including 45.9 seconds for the 400m at Milwaukee on 2 July 1948, less than a month before he competed in the London Olympics. In I952 he produced one of the greatest relay legs of all time as Jamaica took the 400 metres relay gold in world record time.
Along with photos of his four children Laura, Herbie, Michael, and Kirsten and several of his grandchildren, dotting the study were a framed shirt in yellow bearing the signatures of numerous Jamaican athletes including World Junior 200m record-holder Usain Bolt, World Championships silver medallist Maurice Smith, Novelene Williams, and Chris Pinnock.
There was also a photograph of him the day Herb McKenley Drive was so-named; an award from the Ford Motor Company; a citation from the city of New York and the plaque marking his April 1994 induction into the Penn Relays Hall of Fame.
On his desk sat a plaque, which upon closer examination turned out to be a Carreras Sports Foundation Special Award won by former World Junior champion Roy Bailey as part of the 4x100m boys relay team which won gold at the 1998 World Juniors in Annecy, France.
Jamaica has many famous athletes, Herb Mckenly died at the University Hospital of the West Indies, on the 22nd of November 2007 from pneumonia.