John Joseph Magee

John Joseph Magee

A legendary figure that transcended Bowdoin, Jack Magee was a patriarch for nearly two generations of athletes and is among the most storied coaches in the annals of American sport.

A native of East Boston, Massachusetts, John Joseph Magee came to Bowdoin as the track coach in 1913, after a stint in the same position at Powder Point School in Duxbury, Massachusetts. After being wounded in France during World War I and surviving a torpedo-dodging return across the Atlantic, Magee resumed his duties in Brunswick with aplomb. He was the College’s first athletic trainer, and led the Bowdoin track team from 1913 until his retirement in 1955.

In his forty-two years at the College (1913–1955), Magee’s teams won twenty state championships in thirty-eight years of competition, including nine straight titles immediately following World War I, a record that remains unbroken. In addition, Bowdoin claimed the New England Collegiate Championship on four occasions during his tenure, in 1920, ’24, ’28, and ’32.

He was a coach on four Olympic teams, in 1920, ’24, ’28, and ’32, but refused a coaching position in 1936 due to his objection of Nazi Germany’s hosting of the Games. In 1924 one of his own athletes, Fred Tootell ’23, won the Olympic gold medal in the hammer throw. He served as the head coach at several international competitions, including dual meets between the Americans and the British in San Francisco in 1932 and in Chicago in 1933.

An internationally known figure, Magee served as president of the Track Coaches of America and vice president of the National Amateur Athletic Union. He was one of the first coaches inducted into the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame and was also a cofounder and president of the Maine Amateur Athletic Union. He was honored as director of track and field emeritus in 1955 at the College and was elected as an honorary member of the Bowdoin College Alumni Association in 1964.

Jack Magee remains well known by Bowdoin students today, as his name adorns the all-weather outdoor track at Whittier Field and the popular dining room and pub in David Saul Smith Union. Born in 1883, he married the former Gladys Thornton in 1911 and together they raised one son, two daughters, and two grandchildren. Magee died on New Year’s Day in 1968, just shy of his 85th birthday.