The man in charge of the finish line of the very first Great North Run died only days before its 39th anniversary.
Starting in 1981, John Limer took the lead in organising the barriers, signage and everything else for the famous finish on South Shields front.
He and his team, who worked for South Tyneside Council, were the backbone of the initial run and continued to organise everything around the finish line for many years after.
John died at the age of 81 on August 31 in St Oswald’s Hospice in Gosforth after suffering Parkinson’s disease and Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.
But memories of his Great North Run input, Irish dancing, fundraising feats and big heart will live on.
And run instigator, Olympic medallist Brendan Foster, has paid tribute to him.
Writing a heartfelt message to his daughter Catherine Clausen, Brendan said: "I was extremely saddened to hear of John's passing. In the early days of the Great North Run so many people stepped up to help us make our vision for the event a reality.
"The tireless work of many at our local councils got the event off the ground. John and his team played a big part in making sure we had a finish line we could be proud of in South Shields. I send my sincerest condolences to his family and friends at this difficult time."
Catherine said: “From the very first Great North Run dad was heavily involved with getting the banners and signage near the finishing line. He did it for years and as a child he would take us to watch the runners come in and we would go into the big tents.
“He could never have known how big the event was going to get.”
“He was a man who could organise anything. If you needed it he could get it. He was that sort of man.”
Former street and lighting engineer John, of Low Fell, Gateshead, worked alongside Olympic medallist Brendan Foster who devised the run. Brendan was inspired after running in the Round the Bays Race in New Zealand in 1979, and had the lightbulb moment to create a spectacular run of his own.
John was instrumental at the beginning and made sure the event went smoothly for the thousands of runners that were to pass his finish line.
But not only was he held in high esteem amongst those who worked on the regions’s biggest annual event, he also helped raise funds to buy his local parish church, raised even more cash to build it an extension, won accolades for keeping the Irish culture alive in the North East, scooped medals for his Irish dancing and even fostered 20 pre-adoption babies with his wife Joan.
Born in Hebburn on the south banks of the Tyne, John was raised in the heart of a vibrant Catholic – Irish community the values and traditions of which he absorbed and cherished all his life.
“He was an amazing man,” added Catherine,53, of Darlington. “He would also organise the South Tyneside Flower Show, he won a medals in Irish dancing and won first prize in 1974 at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales.
“Then ten or so years ago he was presented with a Celtic cross made from peat for 50 years of keeping Irish culture alive in the North East.
“Dad even helped raise funds to build the Parish Church - St Anne’s Catholic Church at Harlow Green in Gateshead. That was 47 years ago and only six years ago he helped raise enough funds to build it an extension.
“Then when I was only about 11 years old he and mam started to foster babies. In total they fostered 20 pre-adoption babies in 10 years. They would come to us only six to seven days old.”
John made a major contribution to Irish culture in the North East especially through the ceili dances he taught and popularized and his long association with John Doonan, the celebrated Hebburn flute player. He formed the Tyneside Irish Dance Troupe in the 1960s and took them to prestigious festivals all over Europe. With Phil Conroy he was part of the folk dance festival revival in the North East in the 70s which resulted in the Teesside Eistedfodd, the Tyne-Wear Folk Moot and the Billingham International Festival which survives to this day.
John was a loyal member of the Irish Centre committee, he was also a board director of the Tyneside Irish Cultural Society and Festival.
Good friend Tony Corcoran paid tribute to him.
Tony said: “He was a character who acquired a semi-legendary status wherever he operated. In South Tyneside, where he held several senior local government posts, he was the go-to man for everything. Brendan Foster may have got the credit for the Great North Run but it would never have happened without Limer.
“All the barriers, signage and paraphernalia for the famous finish on South Shields front were arranged by him and his team. He also provided the Christmas lights in the borough and his friends would look out for the Limer touch such as the green, white and orange displayed by Hebburn’s Iona Club. Those of us working in the area would often hear the advice ‘Ask Limer’: true enough he could get anything from a shovel to a sound system.”
John leaves wife Joan, 81, children; Catherine, 53, Sean, 51, Sioban, 49, and Meidbin, 46, along with 11 grandchildren.
Pal Tony added: “Men like John Limer are not easily replaced. He will be sadly missed. Our sincere condolences to Joan and all the Limer clan.”
The Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Norman Dick, said: “We are saddened to hear about the passing of John Limer. He was a real character and a popular man at South Tyneside Council. John and his team played an integral part at the finish line in the early days of the Great North Run. Having been born and bred in Hebburn, John was a credit to the Borough and he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family at this sad time.”
Over 200 family and friends attended John’s funeral service which took place at the church he helped build - St Anne’s Catholic Church, followed by a cremation at Saltwell Crematorium and then back at the Tyneside Irish Centre in Newcastle.