Carolyn Plummer first met her future husband at the Denver junior high school at which they both worked. At the time, she had no idea she’d just met one of the world’s fastest runners of all time.
In fact, she said, Adolph Plummer rarely spoke of his remarkable track-and-field career — not even of the 440-yard dash world record he’d set while running for the New Mexico Lobos in 1963.
“He told me (later) that when he first went to Denver and he was hired (by the Denver public school system), they were sure they were hiring a track coach,” she said of Plummer, who died in November 2015 at the age of 77. “ … He did not want to coach track. He wanted to be a school administrator.
“He loved education.”
Plummer’s world record, though, and his sterling track-and-career at UNM from 1959-63, have not been forgotten. On Friday, a plaque memorializing his life and career was unveiled at the UNM track stadium.
Carolyn Plummer, who traveled to Albuquerque from Denver for the occasion, said she later came to deeply appreciate her husband’s accomplishments on the track.
“When he and I were first married, we could be walking down the street in Denver and people would stop him and recognize him, I think because (the world record) was such a big deal at that time.”
Plummer ran his world-record time of 44.9 seconds at the 1963 Western Athletic Conference championship meet in Tempe, Ariz., obliterating the old record of 46 seconds even. His record stood for either four years or eight, depending on whether one accepts Tommie Smith’s 1967 clocking of 44.5 at the distance of 400 meters — approximately 2 1/2 yards short of 440 — as having broken the record. Smith’s time would convert to 44.8.
Plummer’s world record was hardly his only accomplishment. He won an NCAA title in the 440 while running for UNM in 1961. During his post-college career, he once defeated Bob Hayes — at the time considered “the world’s fastest human” — at 220 yards.
Neil Murray, a former Albuquerque radio personality and television reporter, had become friends with Plummer in his pre-UNM years while both were stationed at Wheelus Air Force base in Libya.
Totally by chance, Murray said, the two friends both ended up in Albuquerque.
Murray left Albuquerque in 1977, taking a job at a Minneapolis TV station. Plummer left for Denver, where, except for a brief stint as a UNM assistant athletic director for academic advisement, he made his home.
Yet, Murray said at Friday’s ceremony, “Plummer and I stayed friends throughout. He was a great guy, nice guy, easy-going guy, best athlete in the world.”
As much as her husband gave to track and field, Carolyn Plummer said, it gave him even more — paying for an education that helped him in turn become an educator.
With puns intended, she said during Friday’s ceremony, “Track and field vaulted him into education. And then he helped kids maneuver the hurdles of their life.
“That’s my memory of him most of all, and his contribution.”