IVAN DUNBAR OBITUARY
by NABBA's Historian Malcolm Whyatt
'Sacred Thy Body Even As Thy Soul'
IVAN DUNBAR: 6th Feb 1928 - 10th August 2009
Ivan and his wife Rachel 'Reh' were married for 51 years, before she sadly she passed away in 2007.
He confided that since then, well meaning people had commented that 'given time he would get over it'. On the contrary, he said "I don't want to as I treasure the countless happy and memorable times we had together" adding, "and the love of my family" i.e. his devoted daughters, Lorraine and Jacqueline, his sister Annie, his grandchild, Jade and the entire family circle in N. Ireland and Australia.
Ivan began work at 12yrs (paperboy) and left school at 14yrs. He had various 'message boy' jobs until 16yrs, then an Engineering apprenticeship with the world famous Harland & Wolff shipbuilders, in Belfast. He went on to become manager for the company.
He was "mad keen on sports" - swimming, athletics, cross-country running, especially golf, boxing and bodybuilding. We spent as many hours discussing these as we did about holiday destinations and films. Ivan and Rachel regularly went to the cinema, usually twice weekly.
Ivan was introduced to bodybuilding by a school friend in 1948, the same year that he attended the London Olympic Games and the first Mr Universe at the Scala Theatre. The Universe dinner was "a magical evening" where he first met John Grimek and many other top names of the era. Inspired, Ivan developed a passion for bodybuilding and the iron game which literally led him up the garden path to where he started training, in the back garden! After meeting Oscar Heidenstam, Ivan joined NABBA in 1950, and for several years competed in the NABBA N. Ireland area contests which he won in 1955. Such was his maturity, Ivan was appointed a NABBA Judge in the same year.
In 1951 aged 24, he opened his first Belfast gym and later he moved to much larger premises the 'Ivan Dunbar Health Studios' where over 100 bodybuilders could train 6 evenings per week. After 34yrs in the business, he decided to sell in 1983. In 1953, he took over from Alec Sharp, one of the pioneers of N.I. Weight Lifting & Bodybuilding to stage his first NABBA N. Ireland Area contest at the Y.M.C.A. in Belfast. Reg Park and Spencer Churchill were his first Guest Stars.
Ivan found time to sketch, paint, and play golf. He started playing golf aged 27yrs and at the age of 32 achieved the distinction of playing off scratch and qualified for the Irish Championships. Ivan also wrote for the magazine, Golf World. He was a superlative writer and contributed countless show reports and training articles for Oscar, Health & Strength, the Reg Park Journal and Bob Kennedy's MuscleMag International to name a few. I thought his best article was 'What about the Olympics Then' in the 1984 Nov. issue of Sport & Fitness incorporating Health & Strength. His columns in Health & Strength about the NABBA Mr & Miss Britain and Universe were brilliant. A must read was his column, 'Some of The Things They Said', which consisted of interviews with the stars, judges and members of the audience. Ivan's comments from these were enlightening and often humorous.
In 1968 as a daytime break from running the gym, he returned to consultancy work, this time for Short Bros, the aircraft manufactures. Ivan became responsible for Interior Design on all new aircraft and later for Design of Exterior Graphics for customer's aircraft for over 50 airlines. Ivan travelled the world and even after he retired in 1999 customers still sought his expert advice.
Having been the NABBA N. Ireland rep for many years and now with more 'free time', Oscar was delighted when in 1968, Ivan accepted the appointment as a member of the NABBA Executive Council. His contribution in helping to further enhance the integrity and reputation of NABBA and also that of NABBA International is almost incalculable. Oscar consulted with Ivan on many major issues, especially when NABBA International was inaugurated in 1984. From 1992 Ivan's diplomatic approaches and wise advice saw the member countries of NABBA International increase to 36 countries.
During his stewardship, Ivan raised the profile of NABBA in many other ways, particularly when he negotiated a 3-year contract for world-wide TV coverage via Eurosport TV of the NABBA Universe. During which he also obtained a vast amount in sponsorship from major sports companies.
In 1994 Ivan re-appraised the NABBA judging system and produced and published an illustrated booklet containing a more precise and fairer judging criteria. Most NABBA member countries adopted the procedures.
The highlight of his career was undoubtedly in 1998 when together with Danny William’s, Vice Chairman of NABBA, he organised the '50yrs of the Universe' dinner at the ICC Birmingham. 400 guests attended and an array of former NABBA Mr Universe champions. It was a magical line up and the piéce de rèsistance was that they all appeared on stage the following day at the NABBA Universe. The legends included Reg Park, Steve Reeves, Bill Pearl, Mickey Hargitay, John Brown, Johnny Isaacs, John Citrone, Earl Maynard, Bill Richardson, Roy Duval et al. In taking the photographs I was tempted to call for a pose-down between these bodybuilding legends. That was also a 'magical evening', like the one in 1948 after the first Universe.
Ivan was the only person who had attended EVERY Universe from 1948 to 2008 inclusive. These Universe contests consisted of 59 NABBA Amateur Mr Universes, 57 NABBA Professional Mr Universes, 43 NABBA Miss 'Figure' Universes, 25 Senior NABBA Mr Universes, 23 NABBA Miss 'Physique' Universes, 11 NABBA Junior Mr Universes and 10 Pro Am NABBA Mr Universes. Ivan officiated at most of these and judged many contests including NABBA Mr & Miss Britain, various Britain Area contests, NABBA International, Mr & Miss Europe and Mr & Miss World. At times he and I would smile when a competitor complained that they should have placed higher, and that 'old judges' (like Oscar and Ivan) knew nothing about bodybuilding or judging contests!
In 2006 Ivan produced a full colour high quality programme for the NABBA Worlds staged in Dublin. It was more like a magazine, covering the 2005 NABBA International Mr & Miss World held in Brazil, and including a synopsis of NABBA's history. It courted rave revues particularly from such luminaries as Reg Park, Bill Pearl, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bob Kennedy.
Up to and including the 2009 NABBA N. Ireland Area contest, Ivan set a British record of 56 consecutive annual NABBA Area shows (N. Ireland), meticulously organised and staged by the same man. Of all the numerous contests that I've attended, Ivan's had a truly unbelievable atmosphere indeed. Some guests stars have been more than startled, when as the curtains opened the roar of appreciation was more like Wembley on FA Cup day!
During that magical era he attracted a record 132 male and female guest stars to his Belfast show, which were the cremé de la cremé British, European, Universe and World champions. Reg Park was guest star 10 times, Bill Pearl 6 times, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bertil Fox and Charles Clairmonte 3 times, John Grimek, Leo Stern, Mickey Hargitay, Larry Scott, Frank Zane, Robby Robinson, Bruce Randal, Paul Wynter, John Citrone, Jeff King, John Brown, Bill Richardson, Andre Maille, Hassan al Saka, Ian Lawrence, Steve Sinton et al. Many of whom became lifelong family friends, especially Oscar, Reg Park, Bill Pearl and Arnold.
Ivan was a gentleman, kind, astute and a writer, author, an ambassador, and a man of great wisdom and integrity. He was also a good listener which led him to be acutely aware of contentious issues and was very adept at resolving them. Ivan eventually held more official posts for NABBA than anyone in its history.
1953 NABBA Area Representative for N. Ireland
1955 NABBA Judge
1968 NABBA N. Ireland Executive Council member
1980 NABBA Chairman of the Judges (various periods)
1984 NABBA International Chairman of the Judges (various periods)
1992 NABBA UK Chairman (term for 2yrs which turned into 8yrs) Retired May 2000
OH Foundation Award for his kindness & services to the OHF
1993 NABBA International Chairman
NABBA International Chairman of Judges
1999 NABBA International President
2001 OH Foundation Ambassador Award - Bodybuilding & Physical Culture
2003 NABBA International World President
We first met at the 1956 NABBA Universe and I will remember Ivan for his friendship, generosity, sincerity, wisdom and for his wonderful sense of humour. We shared many great and profound moments, amusing experiences and jokes.
Who can forget his hilarious joke about the 'jockey and his green horse' at the 1993 OHF 'Reg Park' Dinner, or his 'Ode to the Universe' at the 2001 OHF Dinner. (Both are included on the OHF DVDs, soon to be all available from GMV Productions).
In 1986 I'll never forget when in Las Vegas for the NABBA International Mr. World contests, Ivan was officiating and I was covering the photography for Sport & Fitness, Heath & Strength and reporting for two U.S.A. mags. On the same day, just a half a mile away, Mike Tyson was fighting in the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship that very evening. During the morning we visited the venue in the MGM hotel, and by the ringside we watched the preparations. We wished we could have attended and joked about skipping the bodybuilding, go watch the boxing, he would do the write up and I would take the photographs. Instead we did so - at the memorable world bodybuilding championships.
Ivan's dry sense of humour was second to none as was his talent for mimicking accents. During a Universe judging, I had advised Ivan of a competitor who couldn't understand his Irish accent when he called for "competitor number 8"' as in 'air eht'. Later this resulted in Ivan calling for "number ATE" in broad London Cockney! Over the years, he repeated it as he knew I was the only one who shared the joke.
In some ways he conducted his life as Oscar did. 'Do good by stealth and blush to find it known'. I shall miss my dear friend's twice-weekly phone calls and his calling for "number ate".
At his funeral, Nigel Gordon-Rae delivered a comprehensive and moving tribute to Ivan which included:
' He will never be forgotten by those who he quietly helped in life and without a word to others'.
' Ivan unknowingly became a legend alongside the legends that he encouraged'.
' Ivan will be remembered and respected for his 60yrs commitment to our sport' and
' In his personal life, Ivan will remembered as a much loved father and grandfather'.