EVERY community has someone who has dedicated their life to it but there can be few who match the contributions of Tony Hobbs to Henley.
With a family tree in the area that stretches back to 1490 (his ancestors were farmers in Hambleden), he ran the eponymous boat hire business and helped to kick-start rugby in the town.
But it was the creation of the Henley half marathon that has perhaps had as great an effect as anything 79-year-old Mr Hobbs has done.
On October 14, more than 1,000 runners will gather at Henley Rugby Club for the 30th annual event.
The 13.1 mile course, which takes in Henley, Aston, Hambleden Lock, Fawley, Middle Assendon and Lower Assendon, was invented by Mr Hobbs along with Tom Campbell, Dom Steptoe, Reg Foster and Peter Hancock in 1983.
The group had all retired from competitive sport and needed an alternative pastime.
Mr Hobbs, who was born in Henley and now lives in Peppard, said: “There was a big running boom in the Eighties and the London Marathon started in 1981. It was just an explosion of people running and jogging.
“A group of us had finished our rugby and football days and started doing a lot of running. We went further and further and several of us entered our first marathon in Winchester in 1982.
“We thought how nice it would be to organise a half marathon in Henley.
“I was on the fund-raising committee for the Henley branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution so we raised money for that.
“There was no Henley running club or anything like that so we just put adverts in the Standard and running magazines. Entries started flooding in. Once you have an event like that on the calendar people look forward to it the next year so there’s a lot of repeated entries.”
The organising committee was offered the use of the rugby club premises by the owners, the Borlase family, for the start and finish facilities.
Marshals were provided by various organisations in the town and the event went from strength to strength.
Entry numbers consistently remained above the 1,000-mark as the half marathon became a key local event and one year there were 1,700 competitors.
During Mr Hobbs’ 20 years as committee chairman, more than £70,000 was raised for the RNLI.
In 1993, the committee added a 10km race, which is now sponsored by the Standard while Invesco Perpetual supports the main event.
Mr Hobbs said: “A lot of people could run 10km but not 13 miles. When we started it was more of a casual thing but it’s now an official race.”
In 2003, he stepped down as chairman when Henley Bridge Rotary Club offered to take over the organisation of the event.
Mr Hobbs, who still helps out each year, said: “I had done it for 20 years and wanted to stand down. It was nice that they came along at that time and they’ve now been there for almost 10 years.
“It’s extremely satisfying to see it continue. Of course the club has improved it over the years and raised money for the institution as well as other charities, which I love to see.It’s a much bigger thing now. The club has got a much bigger committee and they’ve improved it tremendously.”
Mr Hobbs completed the London Marathon nine times but never took part in the Henley half marathon, although he has run the route.
He ran in 30 marathons, including those in New York and Paris, and up to 50 half marathons before hanging up his running shoes more than 20 years ago.
The best marathon time he achieved was three hours and 13 minutes in London in 1984. The same year he achieved his best half marathon time of one hour and 26 minutes in Bath.
At the time, he was 52.
Mr Hobbs said: “When you run when you are older, you improve for a few years which is very satisfying but then, of course, you start slowing up and eventually retire.
“I ran for about 10 years and it was nice to finish one sport and then start another. I miss it whenever I see people running.
“In the Henley area there are so many nice places to run, especially in the summer.
“I used to love running. It’s just the ability to be able to do it and enjoy it.
“People say they don’t like running and that’s fair enough but it’s very satisfying when you get fitter and fitter and improve your times.”
He believes that cycling has overtaken running as the leisure activity of choice and has seen the number of half marathons fall, so he is delighted to see his creation still going.
“The successful ones have continued and it’s great Henley is one of them,” said Mr Hobbs.
“It’s well up there with the other ones and the course is particularly attractive. You run for two-and-a-half miles alongside the river.
“It’s like a figure of eight course that takes you out of the town and then brings you back. It’s a nice course that hasn’t changed and people enjoy it.”
Mr Hobbs’ other great sporting contribution to Henley was helping to found Henley Rugby Club, where he played at number eight, in 1954.
A former member of Henley Rowing Club, he was part of a team that had just left Henley Grammar School, which is now a campus for The Henley College, and wanted to continue playing.
A rugby club had existed in the town during the Thirties but after the Second World War, it did not return until the intervention of Mr Hobbs and his friends.
He said: “It was a bit like the half marathon because we got it going for our own purposes and left a legacy.
“At first we played in the grass that is used as a car park for Henley Royal Regatta and the changing rooms were at the old Henley Rowing Club in Thames Side.”
Mr Hobbs, who has three children with his wife Jackie and eight grandchildren, was also the fourth owner of Hobbs of Henley before passing it on to his son Jonathan, 41, in 2003.
He remains chairman of the company, which was started in 1870 by his great grandfather Harry, in a semi-retired role.
The company is seen as a pillar of the Henley business community and it had a key role at the London Olympics, supplying the boats that ferried the rowers from their hotel in Windsor to Dorney Lake.
Mr Hobbs’ community work has not gone unnoticed and his honours include being appointed a Royal Waterman to Her Majesty the Queen in 1981.
In 2004, he received a Henley town medal and was made a Member of the British Empire for his services to the Henley.
Peter Wilkinson, who now organises the half marathon for the Rotary club, said: “Tony is well known around Henley for his interest in the river and rugby.
“Without him, the event would not have been created and it has become one of the best-supported events in the South with many runners having the second Sunday in October in their running diary as the day they come to Henley to meet old and new friends.
“Over the years large sums have been raised for the RNLI and a wide range of local charities so Tony’s legacy has benefited a great many people.”
THIS year’s Henley half marathon and Henley Standard 10km run will take place on Sunday, October 14, starting at 9.30am.
Each year more than 2,500 runners compete in the two races, which are organised by the Rotary Club of Henley Bridge and raise money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution as well as local and international charities. In 2010, a record £23,000 was raised.
Both races start and finish at Henley Rugby Club. Free car parking is available for competitors in the adjoining meadows. The half-marathon course goes through Henley over the bridge and along the Thames Valley before crossing the river again and taking runners up Fawley Hill and back to the rugby club.
All entrants who complete the course receive a medal and goody bag. Entry to the Henley half marathon, which is sponsored by Invesco Perpetual, costs £18 and entry to the 10km costs £12.
Entries should be received by Sunday, September 23 and race packs will be dispatched by October 10. Runners will be chip-timed.
Late entrants should collect their race packs on the day from the late entry pick-up point. A limited number of entries for both races will be available up to 8.30am on the day at a cost of £25 for the half marathon and £16 for the 10km.
These entrants will not be chip-timed, nor eligible for inclusion in the race results.
Half marathon competitors who run with a dog or pushchair will be disqualified. Competitors running the 10km with a dog will be disqualified.
To enter,, fill in the form printed on page 12 or visit or visit www.henley halfmarathon.co.uk