Jim Peckham, Olympic wrestler and coach, college wrestling coach and athletic director, died Tuesday evening in Braintree, Mass. He was 81.
TheMat.com reports Peckham had been ill, and was being treated in an assisted living facility.
James Cameron Peckham was welcomed as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2000.
The son of Al and Clevelyn Peckham, Jim Peckham grew up in Quincy, Mass. According to his Hall of Fame biography, Peckham never had the opportunity to wrestle in high school or college; it was not offered as a sport at his high school in Braintree. However, as a teenager, he discovered the Boston Young Men’s Christian Union where he was able to learn wrestling.
For the next decade, Peckham competed in both freestyle and Greco-Roman. In 1954, he became the Eastern AAU champion and was voted the outstanding wrestler of the event. In 1956, despite having a wife and two children — and a job at the Braintree Electric Light Department — Peckham hitchhiked to California to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials. He earned a spot on the Greco team, and wrestled at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. However, a controversial reversal of a victory denied him the opportunity to compete for a silver or gold medal.
Despite that disappointment, Peckham remained involved in wrestling, continuing to coach at BYMC, and, later, at Emerson College for two decades (where he also served as athletic director), then as a coach at Harvard University for another decade.
Peckham an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestling team for the 1972 Munich Olympics. Among the wrestlers he helped guide to gold medals: Iowa State mat alums Dan Gable, and Ben Peterson. Four years later, was head coach of the U.S. Greco-Roman squad at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
“Peckham was willing to do most anything we needed, including getting on the mat,” Peterson recalled. “We were much younger and he had the ability to keep us in line… He guided us like a big brother at times. He was a very personable coach to the point of being like our dad.”
Services planned: Visitation will be held Friday, August 26 at the McDonald Funeral Home at 40 Sea Street in North Weymouth, Mass, from 2-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. EDT. A memorial service will be held for Jim Peckham at the McDonald Funeral Home at 9:30 a.m. Saturday with a luncheon to follow.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Emerson College Athletic Trust Fund or to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Want to know more? Read TheMat.com’s news story about Jim Peckham’s passing… and a tribute by Gary Abbott of USA Wrestling. For additional background information on Peckham, check out his bio at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame… and a fascinating, in-depth profile from July 2008 in the Boston Globe.
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