Just six months after overcoming serious health challenges, Thomas Callender Snr. celebrated his 80th birthday in style with family and friends last Sunday at Ella’s Banquet Hall.
Turning 80 on July 12, the well-chiseled octogenarian is proud of the journey that brought him from Tobago in 1970 to Toronto where he became a world-class Masters runner and dedicated family man.
Thomas Callender Jr., who was a hurdler at Central Technical School in the 1980s, introduced his dad to the sport 27 years ago.
“He took me to a meet at York University and I showed him on the billboard that there was a Masters competition for athletes over the age of 40,” said the younger Callender. “He decided to give it a try and that opened the opportunity for him to travel around the world.”
Without training, Callender finished third in his first Masters race – a 100-metre event – at age 52 in 1985.
“I was so sore I knew I had to prepare properly and put in the work if I wanted to continue,” he said.
With financial support from his employer – Griffith Laboratories – who provided half of his airfare, Callender travelled to Japan, South Africa, England, the United States, Italy and other provinces to represent Canada in the 100-, 200-, 400- and 4 x 100-metre events before retiring five years ago.
Callender was a track and field athlete in school and carpenter in his Caribbean homeland before coming to Canada.
“I was looking for a better opportunity and a greener pasture when I made the decision to come here,” he said. “The only people I knew here were two friends, one in Montreal and the other in Toronto.”
After a week in Montreal, he tried to enter the United States to visit a close acquaintance but was turned back at the border. Three days later, he arrived in Toronto.
“My friend in this city (Alva Charles) encouraged me to come here because he figured I would not have been able to cope with the French influence in Montreal,” said the father of six and grandfather of 18. “So I jumped on a bus, headed here and had to find my way to his home on King St. W. and Elm Grove Ave. by walking and streetcar because he could not come to the bus terminal to get me. By the time I arrived at his home, I was frozen because it was November and I didn’t have a heavy coat or any winter clothing.”
Callender made $1.65 an hour producing swimming pools before joining Griffith Laboratories where he worked in the sanitation section for 25 years prior to retiring in 1997.
Tom Callender Jr. said his father has been a huge influence in his life.
“At a time when there are so many absent fathers in the lives of Black youths, we really appreciate having our dad around,” said the high voltage electrical tester. “All of his children are doing well for themselves and that’s a testament to him and our mom.”
Callender and his wife Floretta have been married for 52 years.
BY RON FANFAIR