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Bob Rittenburg dies at 78

MTFOA official and former Boston Latin and Harvard track standout Robert "Bob" Rittenburg of Reading died on Monday, May 21, 2012 at the age of 78. 

Services at The Levine Chapels, 470 Harvard Street, Brookline will be Wednesday, May 23, at 10:30am with burial to follow in Gloucester. In lieu of flowers, remembrances would be appreciated to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Fund at Mass. General c/o Dr. Karen Ballen, Zero Emerson, Mass. General Hospital, Boston, MA 02144 

Mr. Rittenburg died early Monday after a courageous battle with acute myloid leukemia. Mr. Rittenburg's passing comes 57 years to the day of his signature performance in the 1955 Harvard-Yale track meet. 

He was the husband of the late Carolyn J. "Mimi" (Powers) Rittenburg, who predeceased him on May 6, 2012. 

Mr. Rittenburg won track and field championships and set records as a hurdler and jumper, during his Hall of Fame careers at Boston Latin School and Harvard University, in the late 1940s and 1950s. He also forged legacies of sportsmanship, leadership and service at both of his alma maters. 

An online guest book is here

Young Bob burst onto the high school track scene in early 1949 when, as a 15-year-old sophomore, he led Latin School to its first ever City of Boston Championship in the, then, 41-year history of the Regimentals. He set two Regimental records and equaled another in the process. Over the next three years, Bob won countless City, State and New England individual championships in Track and Field. He also starred on the gridiron. Rittenburg was an all-City of Boston running back in his 1950 senior season and was a two-way back on Coach Charlie Fitzgerald's undefeated and "best ever" 1949 Purple and White pigskin varsity.

The highlight of Bob's interscholastic track career came at the 1951 AAU High School Indoor Nationals in Madison Square Garden. He captured gold medals in both the High Jump and the 60 Yard High Hurdles. In doing so, Rittenburg became the first Massachusetts schoolboy track athlete ever to win two events in the same High School Nationals meet. Only one Massachusetts high school runner has since duplicated the feat.

Off the track, another part of Mr. Rittenburg's personality and legend was revealed when it was reported that he swapped high jump medals with silver medalist Bernie Bruce at the '51 Indoor Nationals. The two athletes had jumped identical heights in the high jump, but Rittenburg was awarded the gold based on having taken fewer attempts at the winning height. John Ahern's story in the Boston Globe reported that Bob thanked the prize custodian then turned to Bruce. "Take this and give me the silver one," he said, "I've already got a gold one from the hurdles." Rittenburg took the praise for his sportsmanship in stride. It turned out he had done something similar a couple of months earlier at the Fargo Meet, when he learned that English High's Gene Ellis had lost his first place medal. It was Ellis' first major prize and he was disconsolate. Mr. Rittenburg gave Ellis one of his own gold medals, shrugging off the deed as "something anybody would do." In 1957, English High's Headmaster, Joseph Malone, awarded Bob an honorary letter "E" for his service to school, country and youth in the field of Track.

Mr. Rittenburg was President of the BLS Class of 1951 and, despite his self-described lack of rhythm, led the 1951 Boston Schoolboy Cadet Parade through the streets of the Back Bay. A crowd of 200,000 people saw Major General Rittenburg at the head of the 12,000 cadet corps. Following his graduation, Mr. Rittenburg was an active member of the Boston Latin School Association for sixty years, including a term as BLSA President. For his distinguished service, he has received two of the three major BLSA Volunteer Awards: the Dr. Joseph F. Desmond '44 Award (1st ever recipient in 1990) and the Lee J. Dunn Award (2002). 

From Latin, Mr. Rittenburg moved on to Harvard, where he was a four-time All-Ivy and All-Heptagonal selection in the hurdles and long jump. He capped his collegiate career on May 21, 1955, when he scored an incredible 26 points in an upset win over Yale. Rittenburg, the '55 captain, won four events and placed second in two others. Harvard needed every point to defeat the arch-rival Elis 70 1/3 – 69 2/3. After the meet, Bob Geigengack, the Yale coach, in congratulating Rittenburg said, "You'll have to invite me to your graduation. I want to cheer loudly and personally when you get your degree." Rittenburg's performance against Yale is described in the second book of Harvard Athletics as, "the greatest one man exhibition any Harvard track man had ever given." He was named the 1955 Bingham Award winner as the top athlete in Harvard's graduating class.

Mr. Rittenburg was the devoted father of Peter T. Rittenburg & his wife Susan of Melrose, Ann M. Rittenburg & her husband Anthony Biette of Belmont, Claire R. Golden & her husband Frank of Reading and the late Philip A. Rittenburg. Cherished grandfather of Olivia and Liam Rittenburg, Cassandra, Jessamyn, Evan and Larissa Biette, Kevin, Brooke and Maura Golden. Dear brother of Stephen Rittenburg of Weymouth, Susan Epstein of Sharon, Jane Delaney of Cambridge and the late Paul Rittenburg.