Mary Peters (athlete)

Lady Mary Elizabeth Peters, LG, CH, DBE, DStJ (born 6 July 1939), is a Northern Irish former athlete, best known as a competitor in the pentathlon and shot put. Peters was named as Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter on 27 February 2019. She was installed in St. George's Chapel, the chapel of the Order, on Garter Day, 17 June.

Lady Mary Peters
The then Dame Mary Peters in 2008
Personal information
Full nameMary Elizabeth Peters
Born (1939-07-06) 6 July 1939 (age 80)
Halewood, Lancashire

Early life and educationEdit

Peters was born in Halewood, Lancashire, but moved to Ballymena (and later Belfast) at age eleven when her father's job was relocated to Northern Ireland.[1] She now lives in Lisburn just outside Belfast.[2]

As a teenager, her father encouraged her athletic career by building her home practice facilities as birthday gifts. She qualified as a teacher and worked while training.

Athletics careerEdit

Peters' Women's Pentathlon gold medal, Munich Summer Olympics 1972.

After Ballymena, the family moved to Portadown where she attended Portadown College. The headmaster Donald Woodman and PE teacher Kenneth McClelland introduced her to athletics with Mr McClelland her first coach. She was head girl of the school in 1956.

In the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Peters competing for Great Britain and Northern Ireland won the gold medal in the women's pentathlon. She had finished 4th in 1964 and 9th in 1968. To win the gold medal, she narrowly beat the local favourite, West Germany's Heide Rosendahl, by 10 points, setting a world record score. After her victory, death threats were phoned into the BBC: "Mary Peters is a Protestant and has won a medal for Britain. An attempt will be made on her life and it will be blamed on the IRA ... Her home will be going up in the near future." But Peters insisted she would return home to Belfast. She was greeted by fans and a band at the airport and paraded through the city streets, but was not allowed back in her flat for three months. Turning down jobs in the US and Australia, where her father lived, she insisted on remaining in Northern Ireland.[1]

In 1972, Peters won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. "Peters, a 33-year-old secretary from Belfast, won Britain's only athletics gold at the Munich Olympics. The pentathlon competition was decided on the final event, the 200m, and Peters claimed the title by one-tenth of a second."[3]

She represented Northern Ireland at every Commonwealth Games between 1958 and 1974. In these games she won 2 gold medals for the pentathlon, plus a gold and silver medal for the shot put.

After athleticsEdit

Peters became a Trustee of The Outward Bound Trust in May 2001 and is Vice-President of the Northern Ireland Outward Bound Association. She is also Patron of Springhill Hospice in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

The Mary Peters TrustEdit

Peters established a charitable Sports Trust in 1975 to support talented young sportsmen and women, both able-bodied and disabled, from across Northern Ireland. The Trust now known as the Mary Peters Trust, helps aspiring young athletes realise their maximum potential by assisting them in both a financial and advisory capacity. Since its inception more than 40 years ago, the Mary Peters Trust has made a staggering number of Awards making a difference to the lives of thousands of young athletes from across Northern Ireland. The Trust has a very impressive list of alumni including Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Jonathan Rea, Darren Clarke, David Humphreys, Bethany Firth, Ryan Burnett, Carl Frampton, Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan, Kelly Gallagher, Michael McKillop, Dr Janet Gray, and many more.


Peters was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to athletics in the 1973 New Year Honours.[4] For services to sport, she was promoted in the same Order to Commander (CBE) in the 1990 Birthday Honours[5] and again to Dame Commander (DBE) in the 2000 Birthday Honours.[6] In the 2015 New Year Honours, she was awarded as Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH), also for services to sport and the community in Northern Ireland,[7][8] and in 2017, she was made a Dame of the Order of Saint John (DStJ).[9] Peters was appointed a Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter (LG) on 27 February 2019.[10]

Northern Ireland's premier athletics track, on the outskirts of Belfast, is named after her. A statue of her stands within it.[11]

In April 2009 she was named the Lord Lieutenant of the City of Belfast,[2] retiring from the post in 2014 when she was succeeded by Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle.[12] Peters is a Freeman of the Cities of Lisburn[13] and Belfast.[14]


Coat of arms of Mary Peters
Lady Mary was granted a badge; a wooden carved rendition of this badge will appear above her Garter stall in St George's Chapel, in place of the usual wooden crest that appears above men's stalls.
Fortiter Et Humaniter
(lit. With courage and courtesy)[15]
The Order of the Garter ribbon
Badge of the Order of the British Empire
Badge of the Order of the Companions of Honour
Badge of the Order of St John
The coat of arms is divided into red and blue, echoing the Union Flag - under which Peters competed in the Olympic Games. The five interlaced rings in the centre symbolise her Olympic past, being a symbol of the International Olympic Committee. The significance of the circlet of ten oak trees is threefold. First, they recall her father who had emigrated to Australia. Outside the nursing home in Australia where her stepmother lived stood a large oak tree which Peters's father always said was "his little bit of England". Second, Peters lives in Derriaghy, which means oakwood. Finally, ten oak trees were planted at the Mary Peters track as a parting gift from the office of the Lord Lieutenant of Belfast after Peters retired. For the supporters, the Springer Spaniel is included because Peters always had that breed at home and because her brother and his wife bred Springers in Australia, winning Best of Show on many occasions. The red and white roses around the dog's neck are symbols of Lancashire and Yorkshire respectively, which refer to the origin of her grandparents. Meanwhile, the liver bird supporter signifies Liverpool, her birth-town. The collar of flax flowers signifies Northern Ireland. The bird's torch is the Olympic flame which is also a pun on the 'burn' in Lisburn, a place where she has the Freedom of the City. Additionally, it denotes the Mary Peters Trust, which uses a torch in its logo. Her badge is composed of the dome of Belfast city hall, to recognise her freedom of Belfast. Atop the dome is a Ulysses butterfly which represents her brother who is knowledgeable about butterflies. Her motto is taken from her former school, Portadown College, whom Peters telephoned for permission to use the motto.[16]


  1. ^ a b Ian McCourt (22 May 2012). "50 stunning Olympic moments No32: Mary Peters wins gold in 1972". The Guardian. London.
  2. ^ a b "BBC NEWS: "Dame Mary now has regal role"". BBC News. 8 April 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2009.
  3. ^ "Sports Personality of the Year: Past Winners - 1969-73". BBC News. 2003. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  4. ^ "No. 45860". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1972. pp. 12–16.
  5. ^ "No. 52173". The London Gazette. 15 June 1990. pp. 7–9.
  6. ^ "No. 55879". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 June 2000. p. 7.
  7. ^ "No. 61092". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2014. p. N28.
  8. ^ 2015 New Year Honours List Archived 2 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Order of St John". Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  10. ^ "New appointments to the Order of the Garter announced". The Royal Family. 27 February 2019. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  11. ^ "Dame Mary Peters". From Pitch to Plinth.
  12. ^ "New Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle is a force to be reckoned with -". Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  13. ^ "Civic honour for Mary".
  14. ^ "Dame Mary Peters granted freedom of Belfast". BBC News. 2 November 2012.
  15. ^
  16. ^

External linksEdit