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Thomas Crampton (Tom) Blue (1908–1991)

by Patrick Buckridge

This article was published:

Thomas Crampton Blue (1908-1991), company director and sports administrator, was born on 4 May 1908 at Norwood, Adelaide, the second child and eldest son of New South Wales-born Walter Inglis Blue, commercial traveller, and his Victorian-born wife Achsah Louise, née Crampton. When Tom was a year old the family moved to Sydney, where he attended Woollahra Public School. In 1920 his father died. Two years later, aged fourteen, he left school and went to work as an office boy in a shipping company. He was later apprenticed to a firm of automotive engineers at Surry Hills and attended night classes at Canterbury.

Blue was a talented sportsman, participating in surf lifesaving; club cricket; and—his great love—rugby union, as hooker for Eastern Suburbs. Early on he was drawn to the management side of the game, first through refereeing—he was a first-grade rugby referee for more than a quarter of a century—then through his increasing involvement in administration and promotion. In 1932 he moved to a new job at Dubbo as a general line salesman for the Goodyear Tyre & Rubber Co. (Australia) Ltd. Here, together with a local rugby international, Bryan Palmer, he helped to form the Far Western Rugby Union association.

On 20 April 1935 at the Anglican Church of All Saints, Woollahra, Sydney, Blue married Gladys Isobel Cleaver, stenographer and daughter of Arthur Cleaver, the deputy mayor of Dubbo. Two years later, after winning second prize in a Goodyear ‘best salesman’ contest, he was promoted to assistant manager of Goodyear in Queensland and the Blue family moved to the inner-northern suburbs of Brisbane. In this role he travelled throughout Queensland and the Northern Territory, becoming ‘one of the personalities of the motor trade’ (Worker 1950, 8). During World War II he was a member of a rubber control advisory board, and liaised with the United States Army Air Forces about the maintenance and repair of rubber products in the Pacific theatre. In 1950, having resisted Goodyear’s attempts to transfer him to head office in Sydney, he succeeded E. J. Withers as the company’s Queensland manager, a position he held until his retirement in 1973.

In Brisbane Blue’s involvement with rugby had intensified. He was elected to the executive committee of the Queensland Rugby Union Referees’ Association in 1941, and later served as a member of the QRU board of management, a Queensland delegate to the Australian Rugby Football Union (1949-52), and ARFU deputy chairman (1949, 1951). He was also a member of the Queensland Turf Club, and made his presence felt there in 1948 by moving, unsuccessfully, to democratise its election procedures in line with its New South Wales and Victorian counterparts.

The consuming interest of the second half of his life was Olympic sport and athletics in particular. Initially drawn to athletics by his elder son Anthony’s success in middle-distance running at school and university, he spent his weekends timekeeping, judging, organising, and fundraising for athletic competitions in Brisbane. Tony Blue would win three Australian half-mile championships (1958-59, 1961-62, and 1962-63), a Commonwealth Games bronze medal (1962), and compete in two Olympic Games (1960 and 1964). In 1959 Tom became president of the Queensland Amateur Athletics Association and later served as a vice-president of the Amateur Athletic Union of Australia (AAUA) (1966-80). He also undertook several key roles in Olympic administration at State and national levels, including as president of the Queensland Olympic Council (1964-91) and executive committee member of the Australian Olympic Federation (AOF) (1964-89). He represented the AOF at International Olympic Committee meetings and for many years chaired its justification commission. In this powerful capacity, it fell to him in the lead-up to the Mexico Olympic Games (1968) to reduce the number of athletes in the Australian contingent drastically, and to maintain budgetary stringency for the succeeding three Olympics.

The greatest challenge of Blue’s public career came in 1980, with the Fraser Government’s attempt to have Australia join an international boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games in retaliation for the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979. After some wavering, Blue came down hard in favour of resisting what he saw as an attempt to politicise the Olympics. In a close ballot, he cast one of the six votes against the boycott in the eleven member AOF executive committee. The decision, later acclaimed as wise and far-sighted, was controversial at the time, and determined efforts were made to reverse it, including anonymous death threats to Blue, which he defied.

In February 1975, after years of partial estrangement, Isobel divorced Blue. Four months later, on 26 June, he married Muriel Florence Smith, née McKinnon, who had worked as his secretary at Goodyear. In 1989, amid some acrimony caused in part by belittling remarks he had made a year earlier about the national weight-lifting team, he stepped aside from the AOF executive board. He was replaced by the former Olympian Michael Wenden, who had led a move against him by some younger athletes and officials and had tried, unsuccessfully, to oust him as president of the Queensland Olympic Council a week before. In March 1991 he resigned the presidency. Survived by his wife and the two sons of his first marriage, he died six weeks later on 25 April at Auchenflower and was cremated.

Blue was a large, powerful man who radiated energy, enthusiasm, and great personal charm. His critics called him a despot, and he had been described as ‘the last of the line of bare-knuckle, uncompromising administrators who ran Queensland sporting organisations as one-man bands’ (Smith 1991, 5). He was a tireless worker, an effective promoter and fundraiser, and an unapologetic advocate for the application of international standards to Australian sport. In recognition of his contribution, he had been awarded the British Empire medal (1983), appointed AM (1989), and made a life member of the AAUA and the AOF.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Blue, Tony. Personal communication
  • Blue, Muriel. Personal communication
  • Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate. ‘Blue-Cleaver.’ 25 April 1935, 1
  • O’Callaghan, Frank. ‘He Can’t Resist a Challenge.’ Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 12 May 1974, 33
  • Queensland State Archives. 881087, Writ–matrimonial petition (Thomas Crampton Blue vs Gladys Isobel Blue, number 982 of 1974)
  • Smith, Wayne. ‘Champion of Olympic Movement Loses the Battle Against Cancer.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 27 April 1991, 5
  • Worker (Brisbane). 27 November 1950, 8

Additional Resources

Citation details

Patrick Buckridge, 'Blue, Thomas Crampton (Tom) (1908–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2015, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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