Obituary – Martin Brandon-Bravo OBE

We pay tribute to Martin Brandon-Bravo, Honorary Life Vice-President of British Rowing, who sadly passed away last month


Martin Maurice Brandon-Bravo, passed away on 15 August, aged 86, after a short battle with cancer. A successful businessman, politician and Honorary Life Vice-President of British Rowing, he devoted his life to serving the community in Nottingham of which he was part for over 60 years.

His political achievements included serving for over 40 years as a Conservative city councillor. He was elected MP for Nottingham South from 1983 to 1992 and became Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to David Waddington, the Home Secretary, and then as Leader of the House of Lords until 1992. As PPS he went on Government missions overseas visiting Russia and Yemen.

Held earlier this week, his funeral was attended by many friends and family. His son Joel delivered the eulogy and said, “I don’t want to stand here and mourn Dad’s life. I want to celebrate it… He achieved so much. In manufacturing, in politics and in sport. Any one of those three would be an admirable life well lived. To have achieved success in all three, and do it all with such a sense of fun, of joie de vivre, is a rare talent indeed.”

Born in London, Brandon-Bravo first discovered rowing at Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith. In 1952, his career took him to a textile manufacturer in Nottingham where he worked his way up. Employed as a floor manager at Richard Stump Ltd, he went on to become managing director in 1979, in charge of two factories supplying dresses to Marks & Spencer.

His relocation to Nottingham also saw him continue his passion for rowing and he soon joined Nottingham & Union RC. A talented oarsman, he became captain of the club and then president. His contribution to the sport at all levels was considerable, including as a FISA umpire and also, from 1993 to 2001, as President of British Rowing – then the Amateur Rowing Association – serving as Honorary Life Vice-President afterwards.

But perhaps his greatest legacy to the sport was the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont, situated on the outskirts of Nottingham. He was the driving force behind negotiations between the county council and various business interests, with discussions beginning in 1967 to transform the disused gravel pits at Holme Pierrepoint into the country’s first ever 2km multi-lane rowing course. Finally, in early 1973, the first event was held at the new venue, which was officially declared open by the Prime Minister Edward Heath.

The British Rowing Almanack reported that the highlight of the domestic year in 1972 was, without doubt, the National Rowing Championships of Great Britain at Nottingham in July. Describing the venue as a ‘magnificent new course’ the Almanack recorded that about 3,000 spectators watched the 23 finals in warm sunshine, with the new multi-lane racing producing plenty of excitement and close finishes.

Perhaps his greatest legacy to the sport was the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont

Brandon-Bravo’s political skills also came into use during negotiations to create the state-of-the-art Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake at Caversham where the GB Rowing Team have trained since 2009.

As President of British Rowing, he proudly attended various Olympics both abroad and at London 2012. He dreamed of Nottingham & Union RC winning at Henley Royal Regatta – and when they won the Wyfold Challenge Cup in 2010, the crew visited him in hospital.

His family supported all his commitments on and off the water. In 1964 he had married Sally Wallwin and they had two sons, Joel and Paul, who survive him.

Recalling how his parents met, Joel said: “My favourite story about Dad’s time in manufacturing was when he was at a jazz night at the Trent Bridge inn. A girl walked past wearing dress that was made from cloth from his factory but wasn’t cut like any dress that they made.

“Always on the job, he pulled her over and demanded to know where the girl, and I say girl, because she was 18 at the time, had got the cloth. It was my mum.

“She was a hairdresser and she’d been given the cloth as a tip for cutting one of his factory worker’s hair. The rest is obviously history.”

A founding member of the Nottingham Liberal Synagogue, Brandon-Bravo was a familiar face around the city where people would regularly stop him in the street and greet him warmly.

Joel said, “At home, he’d often jump up and run to his phone during dinner to pick up a call from an old lady frustrated that the council still hadn’t repaired the lift in her flats. And he’d take those calls just as seriously as he did a call from the Government Whips’ Office.”

One of the family’s proudest days was accompanying him to Buckingham Palace to receive an OBE in 2002.

Retiring from politics in 2009, he was appointed an Honorary Alderman of both Nottingham county and the city councils.

With more time on his hands, he wrote down his memoirs and published his autobiography, Rowing against the Tide, in 2013. Available from Amazon with all proceeds going to Cancer Research UK.

Paying tribute, Andy Parkinson, British Rowing CEO, said: “The passing of Martin Brandon-Bravo is a huge loss for our sport. His contribution was exceptional over the decades, at every level, as a sculler, umpire, club administrator, Council member and of course as British Rowing President and latterly Honorary Life Vice-President.

“Martin was instrumental in creating the country’s first multi-lane course at which thousands of rowers have taken to the water over the years.

“Our thoughts go out to all his family and friends at this sad time.”