Two venerable gents inform Martha’s Vineyard road race

Abe Weintraub, Joel Weintraub, and George Tankard Jr. (left to right) in a photo from 1999, two years before the first NAACP 5K road race. — Photo courtesy of Elaine Weintraub

Abe Weintraub was a first-generation American who saw in this country endless possibility and opportunity. A true believer in the American Dream, he mandated education for all of his children. He admired the achievements of captains of industry, yet for him family was paramount. Even while espousing the values of an individualistic society, he sought and maintained the close ties of family and friends.

During his working life, which lasted until he was 76, Abe worked at the post office, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and in various retail employment jobs. He had little time for leisure activities.

Following his beloved wife, Ruthie’s, debilitating struggle with Alzheimer’s and her early death, Abe decided to take up competitive running. During Ruthie’s final illness, he spent hours pushing her chair around Brooklyn, hoping to stimulate a response by providing familiar sights.

When Abe insisted on taking her into shops, cafes, and family celebrations the response of others was not always positive, but this was a very determined man and there was no way he was willing to compromise on what for him was the struggle of a lifetime. Following her death, he put all those miles of walking and all the heartbreak into his struggle to become a champion runner.

Abe was 80 years old when he bought his first pair of Nikes and began the career, which eventually saw him become the World Champion and runner of the year in his age category.

Abe trained with the New York Road Runners club. He competed in 12 New York and three London Marathons as well as many races in New York City and Falmouth and on Martha’s Vineyard. He finally retired from racing at the age of 98.

Abraham Weintraub was famous throughout England, where his accomplishments were widely covered by the BBC and where people frequently stopped him to ask for an autograph. He was also well known in the New York, Falmouth, and Martha’s Vineyard running communities, where he made many friends.

From the age of 80 to 92, Abe ran and completed many races on Martha’s Vineyard, including Scoops Tour of Edgartown, The Chilmark Road Race, Team Sullivan Race, M.V. Hospital Race, Marianne’s Run The Chop, M.V. Agricultural Society, and the NAACP Road Race. He was named by USA Track and Field as “Runner Of The Year” in 1997 (age 85-89), 2000 (90+), 2001 (90+), 2002 (90+), 2005 (95+), and 2008 (95+). One of his last races was at age 98, the WABC Run in New York City.

This was a man who believed in possibility. Long before the president coined the phrase “yes we can,” Abe lived life with that idea as his mantra. He saw nothing strange about starting a racing career at the age of 80 and firmly believed that life was for the living. Last year, Abe died at the age of 100, having achieved most of his objectives — a lucky man indeed.

In February 2010, when Abe reached 100, the New York State Assembly honored him as an inspiration. Noting all of his various careers, they particularly noted how proud Abe was of being involved in working on the great battleship Missouri, the vessel on which the Japanese surrendered, bringing WW II to an end.

Abe’s success as a runner inspired the late Mandred Henry to name the first annual NAACP 5K race after him in 2002, and Abe ran in that race. When the race was renamed After the death in 2004 of George Tankard, the race was renamed the George V. Tankard Jr. Memorial 5K Road Race/Walk. Fittingly Abe continued to compete in honor of a man he knew well, and who shared many of the same qualities of curiosity and belief in possibility.

Both Abe and George were prolific inventors: in George’s case his inventions were practical and solved many vexing problems such as how to paint a ceiling safely and successfully. George wrote about his life and analyzed every situation, while Abe designed business proposals and saw potential in every situation for creative ideas. They shared an interest in how and why people behave the way they do.

Now, following Abe’s passing, his son, Joel, has bequeathed an annual endowment to the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP to be awarded to those runners 80 and over who complete the race. This year’s race is coming up this Saturday, September 17.

“Abe’s career as a runner was something he was proud of, and it was a remarkable achievement,” Joel Weintraub said. “I think he would love to be remembered as a runner — to encourage other people to run. I want him to be remembered for that.”

Carrie Tankard, George’s widow, agrees with these sentiments. “Abe was an amazing person,” she said. “He just didn’t quit. He felt that anyone could do anything and the only thing stopping them was themselves. I think it is really fitting that an award should be given in his name for runners over 80. He would approve of that and so would George. He always got such a kick out of Abe.

“We are hoping that people will come out and run on a beautiful day for the best of reasons — to enjoy themselves and to honor Abe and George and the struggle for justice.”

11th Annual George V. Tankard Memorial 5K Road Race/Walk, 10:30 am, Saturday, Sept. 17. Registration at the Wesley Hotel from 7 to 9 pm on Friday, Sept. 16, and 7 to 10 am on Saturday, Sept. 17. Entry fee $15 before race day, $20 day of race. Call 508-367-9053 for more information.

Elaine Cawley Weintraub is the board president of the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard and chairman of the history department at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Abraham Weintraub was her father-in-law.