Philip Noel-Baker with the Haverford track team at the 1907 Penn Relay Races.
Remembering an Olympian
(This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Haverford magazine.)
With the Summer Olympics set to open in London in July, it seems fitting that we pay tribute to Haverford’s own Olympian alumnus, Philip Noel-Baker, who won a silver medal in the 1500 meters in the 1920 games in Antwerp. Noel-Baker, a Quaker from England who spent the 1906-07 academic year at Haverford as a visiting student (he later graduated from Cambridge), has an even more impressive distinction: He remains the only person in history to have won both an Olympic medal and a Nobel Prize.
Noel-Baker won the 1959 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his lifelong efforts to find peaceful solutions to political conflicts. He served in the Friends Ambulance Unit in France during the First World War, later worked with Fridtjof Nansen on his humanitarian relief efforts and assisted in the for- mation of the League of Nations. He served in the governments of two prime ministers, became a leader of the Labor Party and was elected to the House of Commons. And he wrote more than a dozen books, many of them on the subject of disarmament, an issue about which he was passionate.
Noel-Baker, who returned to Haverford in 1954 for a weeklong visit during which he met with students and faculty and gave a lecture titled “A British Appraisal of American Foreign Policy,” was also one heck of an athlete.
Besides his own silver medal in the 1920 Olympics, he captained Great Britain’s track team (immortalized in the film Chariots of Fire) in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. “As a freshman [at Haverford], he was the best college soccer player in the country, and he broke the school record in the mile by eight seconds,” says Joe Quinlan ’75, who gave a lecture titled “Philip Noel-Baker: Quaker Hero” at a March reception in London sponsored by the Haverford College International Council.
“Philip Noel-Baker left Haverford in 1907 and fought the good fight for peace and justice for the next 75 years,” says Quinlan. “His accomplishments could fill a dozen lifetimes.”