Remembering Les Fitton

Lea RC coach Les Fitton sadly passed away just after Christmas. Over the years, he inspired generations of youngsters in the sport

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Lea Rowing Club is very sad to report that their good friend and long-standing member Les Fitton passed away just after Christmas, just short of his 93rd birthday.

Les came to the Lea from his national service, much of which was in Malaysia. He joined Gladstone Warwick Rowing Club, where he was a valuable member until that club was merged with their neighbours into Lea Rowing Club in 1980.

At both Gladstone and Lea, Les coached novices and will be remembered in that role by a good few generations of rowers. In addition Les was instrumental in helping with book-keeping thus keeping his club afloat even in the most fraught of times. He will perhaps be best known in the wider rowing community in his role as a National Umpire. Les was also a member of the Dallas Rowing Club in Texas, as one alumnus of his novice programme started the club there on Bachman Lake.

Les even served as a guest umpire at one of their annual regattas, introduced as Lester Fitton. When he pointed out that his name was actually Leslie, his host explained to him that in Texas, men were not called Leslie! Les was the father of the modern Lea Regattas, and he will be fondly remembered and sorely missed by us all.

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It is hoped that a memorial can be arranged in the future when people are able to mix again.

Former Lea member Ray Sullivan is one of many who shared their fond memories of Les and what he meant to the club:

“Having been part of the Springfield set-up as a kid at school, I came to the Lea in the late ’80s, as a pretty messed up 18-year-old looking for direction. I’d gone through a fair bit of trauma and was struggling with life and people.

“An unreliable teenager is probably the least attractive new starter, but instead of turning me away, Les did the opposite and took me under his wing. He found ways of getting me involved as, and when I could – like helping out some of his inexperienced groups, alongside making up numbers for his regular crews – and ways of ensuring I could afford to be at the club.

“Over time as I got myself together, he got me into a focused novice crew – and the rest as they say is history; but not quite.

“Les was a real reader of people and at least with me seemed to see far more than I ever did. After I’d moved on from the novice groups and was moving up the ranks, Les encouraged me to keep my hand in helping out with the beginners, but not just to help with the load on him – he saw I was on the path to coaching.

“I can’t recall if it was ‘92 or ‘93, but Les had a very promising men’s novice four developing, and he would often ask me to pop along with him on their sessions to either help steer or be a second bike.

“In the spring, before racing started, he asked me if I would take them through their season, citing various reasons of lack of time etc. but really, he wanted me to push myself as a “proper” coach. I took them on, and we had a great summer – they ended up with a boxful of pots and I began my journey into coaching.

“I had great times and success in rowing, and it gave me the strength and character to grow in the other areas of my life; but if I look back at that messed up 18-year-old, I wonder if I’d have got the pots, medals, degree and profession if a kind and sincere man hadn’t seen something in me that I couldn’t?

“This is just a snapshot, but hopefully shows what, for me, was the real measure of Les. He genuinely liked people and wanted them to do well. He had no ego – only empathy, kindness and time. He was a coach, a mentor, and inspiration and, more than that, a friend.

“I’ll miss Les – but I think it is testament to him that I am amongst dozens (probably hundreds) who feel the same.”

Les is pictured above with rower Tom Wei, who also paid tribute, saying: “I was lucky enough to have had Les as one of the volunteers who taught me to row.

“He was a wonderful man, exactly as Ray describes, a great role model, and a man of action. There is no doubt the Lea is a better club thanks to his example and influence.”

Thanks to Lea Rowing Club for kindly allowing us to reproduce their tribute.

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