Updated: Nov 25, 2021
(Richmond Regatta in 2004. Photo courtesy of Henry Rogers)
Robert joined the club sometime, I believe in the early 2000's. He told me he learnt to row at school in New Zealand and competed at school and for the Auckland University crew in the 60's, with stories of how they used to transport their (extremely heavy and non-splittable wooden) eight round the country for regattas on the back of his Dad's coal truck. At the club he started to single scull and bought a cheap boat to learn before he traded up to a number of Filippi's as he started to race and improved.
He proved to be a fast sculler and a good athlete and with his analytical brain, keen to learn, improve and master the noble art. He would take advice and coaching from whomever was offering it, absorbed all this knowledge and was able to encapsulate this into a set of principles and used this extensively to educate several generations of club scullers in his ever-popular Tuesday sculling sessions and creating the original single sculler sign off criteria for the club.
He was a key member of a number of good TwRC Vets crews, won a number of quality events including a couple of Pairs Head and Veteran Fours Head pennants and a number of good runs in Vets Henley and Masters Championships, plus many single scull regattas. Everyone he raced against he would chat to in his calm, affable manner and made many new friends.
As a man, he was always thoughtful, polite, amusing, considerate and kind, a true gentleman, and offered his time freely to anybody who needed it. He never lost his temper, despite the pointed coaching that I often used to give him when we were rowing in a double or quad (coaching whether he wanted it or not!) and was a joy to scull with. Always benign and willing to learn, a keen racer, and always wanting to know what the next part of the race plan was going to be. When racing he needed a structure, so that he could know exactly what he should be doing and what aspect of technique he should be concentrating on at particular points of the race, and this ability to plan and execute meant we often beat crews that were probably faster than we were but were less organised, and the difference was shown at key points in races where we effectively out-thought the opposition.
In terms of recent years, he was desperately unlucky to be late diagnosed with a number of very virulent forms of cancer and had to undergo several lengthy bouts of extremely aggressive chemotherapy to bring the cancer under control. This understandably took its toll, and although post-chemo he was often seen out in his single scull, he could no longer manage the exertion that he could before and admitted that he was unlikely ever to be able to race again, which caused him great regret. He faced this daunting challenge in his usual courageous, analytical manner, planning and scheduling his treatment as he did his racing, until the cancer returned.
He was a true club gentleman, always friendly to all, smiling and offering his time and advice, someone I am glad to have known and spent some quality time with, planning and plotting on how we could make a racing boat go faster. I will miss him immensely.
Words by Simon Pullen, club member