RALEIGH — Jim Wescott was an athlete. The former runner and N.C. State track and field coach loved to row in his latter stage of life.
Last year, at age 70, he trained all winter to compete in the Head of the Charles Regatta, where he finished ninth in his age class.
Early Tuesday morning, Wescott died doing what he loved to do – rowing. He was 71. Wescott’s body was recovered in a lake in Maine 12 hours after having what was “probably a heart attack,” according to his ex-wife.
Margaret Gould Wescott described her former husband of 26 years as “an amazing athlete and a fine man.” Wescott led the Wolfpack indoor track teams to the NCAA championships in 1974, 1976 and 1977, and his outdoor team to the NCAA championship in 1976, but he never sought publicity, she said.
“He probably couldn’t tell you his win/loss records at N.C. State,” Margaret Wescott said. “The people he was coaching were the important thing.”
Wescott coached Jim Wilkins, a four-time All-American who nearly eclipsed the four-minute mile mark with a time of 4:00.05, and Ron Brown, who set a school record in the 800-meter run that still stands today, finishing in 1:50.00.
Other notable athletes he coached at N.C. State include four-time All-American and seven-time All-ACC honoree Bob Medlin, three-time All-American LeBaron Caruthers, and Joe Hannah, an All-American and All-ACC award winner.
Wescott was the youngest Division I coach when he got to N.C. State in the late 1960s, at a time when racial issues were strong, his ex-wife said.
“He believed in justice and equality,” she said. “When it was time to put the hurdles out at N.C. State, all the custodians were black, and Jim would be down there helping them.”
Wescott coached at N.C. State from 1969-1978 before leaving to return home to New England. He coached the track program at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, for 25 years.
“He was a (heck) of a coach and a (heck) of a runner,” Margaret Wescott said. “I think that’s why the state of Maine is in such shock.”
Wescott is survived by his wife, Joesphine; his son, two-time Olympic snowboarding champion Seth; and his daughter, Sarah. Seth and Sarah were born in Durham.