Major John ‘Spud’ Leaning

Spud died peacefully on Saturday 3rd August in South Molton Hospital, after some three years of treatment for liver cancer. He fought a strong and gallant battle, and many a less fit person (he was a regular walker on Exmoor) would have succumbed earlier. He was a life-long supporter of Arsenal FC and contributed to many local organisations including the 15th Century Parish Church, which is just 50 metres (the depth of a biathlon range) from his home; the Rotary and the Royal British Legion. He attended and supported many RA and RM functions and re-unions.

Spud was 82 and amazingly had skied (racing or recreational) every year, including 2019, for the past 60 years! Equally amazing was that he was a Member of the Army’s AWSA Management Committee (in its various guises) from 1965 – 2012.  He was a 3-time member of the winning Princess Marina team; GBR Biathlon Team Captain at the Olympic Winter Games 1968; was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 1985 and retired as a Major from the Royal Artillery in 1987. That year he became Biathlon & Nordic Director British Ski Federation (BSF) – now GB Snowsport – and in 1989 was a founder member of the UK’s far-sighted and ground-breaking Coaches Advisory Group. He managed teams at the 1988 (including Eddy the Eagle!), 1992 & 1994 Olympic Winter Games. In 1993 he was the UK’s lead organiser of the UIPMB (International Modern Pentathlon & Biathlon) Extraordinary Congress at Heathrow, when the International Biathlon Union (IBU) was formed to become, in its own right, the International Governing Body for biathlon. In 1995 the BSF gave one year’s notice that it would no longer support biathlon in the UK, and from then, in two spells, he was Secretary Army Boxing & Swimming for ten years.

For many years Spud held various voluntary positions in the UIPMB / IBU; the International Ski Federation (FIS) and the British Paralympic Association. But it will be for his help in forming the IBU and in particular as a founding Board Member of the British Biathlon Union (BBU) in 1996, that he is best remembered by the current generation of Army and GBR biathletes. He remained on the Board for 6 years and, without his expertise and in particular his ability to call on a vast number of contacts in the sporting world as a whole, it is doubtful that the BBU would have survived for 3, never mind the 23 years of its current existence.

Spud was a great supporter of the Skiers Trust first elected to the council in 1980 retiring in 1994. Shortly after that he was elected as a Patron and attended many council meetings in the ten years between 2004 and 2014

His Funeral has been confirmed for 11:00 on Monday 19th August at St Mary Magdalene Church, South Molton, Devon, followed by a Wake in the Assembly Rooms. More details will be announced in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday 7th August.

South Molton is not an easy place to reach by rail (to Tiverton Parkway, from where the first direct bus leaves too late for the Service). There is effectively no parking at the Church, but there is a large car park in the centre of South Molton, off New Road the B 3137, near the Cattle Market. This is approx 7 mins walk to the Church. The Assembly Rooms are 2 mins walk from the Church and are just a few yards from the George Hotel. The George has limited accommodation but no restaurant. Indeed on the Sunday night it appears that only take-aways (and not many of them) are open. There are however many hotels / pubs / B&Bs and restaurants within 20 – 30 mins drive of South Molton. I advise you look up on Expedia or Hotels.com

If you wish to write to Dave & Tom the address is:

Gothic House, 9 Church Yard, South Molton, Devon EX36 3BW