Retired sheriff’s Capt. Leland McPhie, who set track records at San Diego State in the 1930s and competed as a 100-year-old in 2014, died this month of a rare form of E. coli bacterial infection, a relative said Monday.
He also was battling skin cancer, said his great-granddaughter Rochelle, who confirmed his death Sept. 3 at a local medical facility.
McPhie (pronounced McFEE) was 101.
“He was going into hospice,” Rochelle told Times of San Diego. “No one knew that.”
Honored by Sheriff Bill Gore and other officials on his 100th birthday in 2014, with March 10 labeled Leland McPhie Day, the San Diegan had been the oldest living retiree of the Sheriff’s Department.
He joined the agency in 1940, working in the old downtown jail. He wrote the first policy and procedures manual for jail deputies. He took a 2 1/2-year break to serve in the Army during World War II.
At 40 in 1954, he was promoted to captain — the youngest to attain that rank at the time. He also collaborated with architects on the plans for the 1960s jail downtown and designed a special lock for cell doors. He retired in 1969.
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A graveside service will be held through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Rochelle said. (He was a high priest.) And a memorial service also is planned. The dates were uncertain Monday.
McPhie overcame open-heart surgery in 2004 and also cancer in his lymph nodes. He was weakened and could barely talk in his last days. Still, Rochelle said, “He never once complained. . . He’s a tough man, let me tell you.”
McPhie mustered the strength to speak when Sheriff’s Department officials visited him recently.
“He put out his hand and opened his eyes and responded, and gave [the visitor] a very gentlemanly strong handshake,” Rochelle said. “That’s his inspirational spirit that drove him through athleticism and his whole life.”
In 2014, as the lone centenarian at the Masters National Track and Field Championships in Boston, McPhie helped his SoCal Track Club win the team title. This year he was too weak to throw.
But this summer “we were actually planning on going to some of the meets [to watch],” his 37-year-old great-granddaughter said in a phone interview. “He was talking, before he got sick, about going to play golf and tennis.”
Track was his sport, however, even with a six-decade break.
In 1937, he set San Diego State’s then long jump record of 24 feet, 7 inches — earning the nickname “Grasshopper.” In 2009, he set a still-standing world indoor record in the long jump (6-3 1/2) at age 95. He also has indoor world age-group records in the M95 high jump (3-1 3/4) and shot put (22-7 3/4). He holds eight American masters records.
In 2013, he told the Union-Tribune he had three living children, five or six grandchildren and “about 30″ great-grandchildren. “If I see them, I recognize them,” he said, “but I won’t know all the names.”
He was widowed in 2000.
Born in Salt Lake City, the oldest of nine children, McPhie taught himself to pole vault (with a bamboo pole) at Colton Union High School in the early 1930s.
“It was the Depression, and they didn’t have money to hire coaches,” he said in 2007.
Another profile said: “McPhie joined the Army and served in Europe during World War II for two years before returning to SDSU to complete his degree. … [He was] in Vietnam, where from 1969 to 1973 he worked for the State Department. He began playing tennis. On his return home, he joined the Pacific Beach Tennis Club and taught the game on city courts for three years. Then after a San Diego Senior Olympics tennis competition in 1994, he spotted a track.
“His curiosity and spirit took over.
“I went over to see what was going on,” McPhie recalled, saying an official invited him to “go ahead and run.”
In tennis clothes and shoes, he tried the 50-meter dash – and won. “I pulled two muscles,” he said. “And I wasn’t even (officially) entered in the event.”
Ten years later, at the 2004 national masters indoor championships, he broke the world age-group record in the high jump, “and the little girls who were putting up the bar ran up and put their arms around me when they announced the record over the loudspeaker,” he recalled. “It was great.”
Mark Cleary of Rancho Santa Margarita, his coach at SoCal, said: “We loved our Leland. What a wonderful spirit he had. A true warrior, but a gentleman.”
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