Adolph Plummer’s track and field career was remarkably short: three years in the United States Air Force, four at the University of New Mexico, three with the Southern California Striders.
But during that decade (approximately 1957-66), Plummer accomplished great things – and made great friends.
On July 9, some of those friends will gather on the UNM campus to pay tribute to Plummer, who died Nov. 30 in Denver.
Among those tentatively scheduled to honor the former 440-yard dash world record holder are:
• John Carlos, the 1968 Olympic 200-meter bronze medalist whose protest with teammate Tommie Smith against racial inequality on the medal stand in Mexico City has become legend.
• Ed Lloyd, a UNM teammate of Plummer’s who now is chief financial officer and chief operating officer of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
• Edward Lewis, a Lobo football player of the era and the founder of Essence magazine.
• Neil Murray, a former Albuquerque TV journalist who served with Plummer in the Air Force.
• Gary Ness, a former Lobo football and baseball player who as UNM’s athletic director brought Plummer back to Albuquerque in the early 1990s as the school’s director of academic advisement.
• Pete Brown, a teammate of Plummer’s who was watching from the infield the night of May 25, 1963, when Plummer set a 440 world record of 44.9 seconds at the Western Athletic Conference Championships.
• Carolyn Plummer, Adolph’s wife, Kevin Plummer, his son, and Cheryl Plummer, his daughter.
Brown, who is assisting Carolyn Plummer in planning and staging the event, said Plummer and Carlos competed against each other in the mid-60s and became friends. Both are natives of New York – Plummer from Brooklyn and Carlos from Harlem.
“I didn’t realize the full extent of them knowing each other (until later),” Brown, a longtime Albuquerque resident who now lives in Dallas, said in a phone interview. “I just see them as from different eras, almost, but they did overlap.”
When Plummer became ill, Brown said, “Carolyn told me several times that nobody was more solicitous and understanding about Adolph than John Carlos.”
Lloyd, a UNM sprinter, in May 1963 handed the baton to Plummer during a 4-by-400-meter relay race at UCLA. The result was a time of 3 minutes, 8.34 seconds, at the time a school record.
Before joining the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Lloyd served as senior vice president of finance and administration for the United Negro College Fund Inc.
Lewis, another native New Yorker (the Bronx), has said his outspokenness about racial inequities cost him his football scholarship. But he nevertheless graduated from UNM in 1964 with a degree in political science and went on to establish a publishing empire.
Plummer didn’t participate in athletics as a youth or in high school. Murray served with Plummer in Libya in the Air Force, Brown said, and was an eyewitness to the future world record holder’s beginnings in track and field.
“That’s how far back they go,” Brown said.
Murray attended UNM after leaving the Air Force and worked at KOAT-TV in the 1970s before taking a job in Minneapolis.
Ness was a contemporary of Plummer’s at UNM and, though they didn’t participate in the same sports, became friends. Ness brought Plummer back to Albuquerque to head UNM athletics’ academic advisement program in 1990. Plummer left in 1993 and returned to the Denver public schools system, where he had worked previously.
Brown ran for the Lobos the same years (1960-63) as Plummer, and lived across the hall from him in a UNM student dormitory. At the memorial, Brown will summarize Plummer’s track career.
On that night in 1963, Brown had run a career best (1:52.1) in the 880 and finished third. He then watched his friend make track and field history.
“Oh, it was exciting,” Brown said. “What a night.”
The current men’s world record for the 400-meter dash is 43.18, well under Plummer’s historic 44.9, set by Michael Johnson in 1999. But Johnson ran on faster surfaces and was always in top shape; Plummer, Brown conceded, wasn’t fond of conditioning.
“I’ll tell you this,” Brown said. “To this day, I have never seen a better quarter-miler than Adolph Plummer.
“If Adolph were running today and was serious about his training, I think he would hold the world record by a wide margin. I really do.”