Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Saturday, January 16, 2010

We're all going to die, and when we do I hope each of us has an obit this good:

John J. Meegan of Buffalo—known as Jack to hundreds of local runners—who ran the Boston Marathon 30 times, was a member of the Buffalo Softball Hall of Fame, and played competitive hockey most of his life, died after a run in Delaware Park on Thursday. He was 74.

Mr. Meegan, who was born and raised in Buffalo and went to Northwestern University on a track scholarship, collapsed after suffering a heart attack on the way to breakfast with two friends he had been running with.

“He always said, ‘If I am going to go, I want to go running,’ ” said Ron Paladino, who had just run two laps around the Delaware Park Meadow with him.

A modest man who never talked about his achievements, Mr. Meegan was a legendary runner who often ran Boston with little or no training, after spending the winter playing hockey in a Canadian league.

His team, called the Damn Yankees because they were the only Americans, played in a league that featured a number of former professional hockey players. He later played for an older version, Bakewell’s Buddies, until practices moved to Niagara Falls two years ago.

Mr. Meegan, a frequent winner of his age group in the Buffalo News Runner of the Year series, had at least three close brushes with death that never seemed to faze him.

He nearly bled to death in 1998 after an artery in his abdomen burst and he lost eight pints of blood. He spent four days in the intensive care unit, and a month later ran his 20th straight Boston Marathon, finishing in what was a slow time for him, four hours and nine minutes.

Three years later, he was in a tree stand hunting deer with a bow near his camp in Cattaraugus County, when he slipped while trimming a branch and fell 17 feet to the ground. He walked a mile and a half back to his camp, packed up and drove home to Buffalo. He watched a Buffalo Bills game before going to the hospital. He had broken three ribs and punctured his lung. That year, he missed the Boston Marathon.

“He was signed up again this year,” said his longtime friend and running partner Dick Sullivan. “It was going to be his 31st Boston. I’ve run 31, so it looks like I’ve got him beat. It’s a heck of a way to keep ahead of him.”

Mr. Meegan in the coming weeks was preparing to do his fifth Death Valley Marathon Run with a group of veterans. They parachute into the desert and then run the next week, staying each night in an air-conditioned motel.

His son, John, said the family only learned after his death that Mr. Meegan had been diagnosed with a structural heart problem. Friends say after he learned that having it corrected might affect his ability to run, he decided to pass on getting treatment.

Sullivan said he and Mr. Meegan hiked throughout Ireland, Wales and England, and did most of the Appalachian Trail in sections over the years.

They both ran for the Belle Watling Track Club and were on a number of teams that won national masters cross-country races. In recent years, Mr. Meegan ran for Checkers Athletic Club.

He was inducted into the Buffalo Softball Hall of Fame in 1985, but gave up softball in the 1970s when he started running more.

Tom Donnelly, the race director of the Turkey Trot, recalled how competitive Mr. Meegan was in his running.

He said Jim Caher, a Buffalo runner who had never been able to beat Mr. Meegan, came across him lying by the side of the road during the Utica Boilermaker, wrapped in ice, with his shoes off, being attended by emergency crews.

Finally, Caher thought, “I’ll get to beat Jack,” and kept running.

“Around nine miles into it, he felt a tap on the back of his shorts with gentle encouragement, ‘Let’s go, Jim, we’re almost there,’ ” Donnelly recalled. “Well, Jack had woken up, demanded his shoes back, pushed the ice off and continued his run.” It was the last time Caher tried to beat him.

A tool and dye maker at American Optical, Mr. Meegan retired in 1997. He was a member of St. Mark’s Church.

He and the former Laurel Richard married on Nov. 28, 1959. Besides his wife, he is survived by his son and two daughters, Amy Fanning and Erin; and a brother, Patrick.

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