Tribute to Tommy Thomson

Former Vesta President Tommy Thomson sadly passed away on 5 August. The club pays tribute to “one of the great Vesta men”

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Tommy Thomson, who passed away last week, first joined Vesta in 1951 and was a member of the Tideway rowing club for 70 years, during which he made an extraordinary contribution to the club as a rower, coach, Captain and President. He contributed significantly to the development of the sport through roles he held both within British Rowing and internationally.

He was, figuratively and literally, a man of great stature well into his late 80s. Here, mainly in his own modest words, is a summary of his rowing life and a flavour of his contribution to Vesta and the wider rowing community, pulled together for his Vice-President’s profile earlier this year.

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Tommy learned to row at school which was allowed to use the facilities of Vesta. He raced for the club from 1952 until 1966, accumulating many junior and senior wins and was a losing finalist in the Wyfold Fours at Henley in 1960. He raced in a variety of crews – with John and David Redwood, Rusty Williams, Ron MacDonald, George Lane, Harry Prior and others – until 1966 when illness intervened.

He then became involved in British Rowing – then known as the Amateur Rowing Association – becoming Div Rep for Division 19 on the retirement of “Benny” Wells, a long-time stalwart of Vesta. This introduced him to the British Rowing Council and then to membership of the Executive Committee on which he served until the reorganisation of the governance of British Rowing in 2017.

During that period Tommy’s roles involved chairmanship of the Coaching/Instructional Committee, including producing the first version of the Water Safety Code. Chairmanship of the National Championships followed, where in 1984 he had the privilege of hosting HRH Princess Anne when she accepted their invitation to attend the event. He was a member of the Competition Committee, the Appeal panel and Chairman of the Editorial Board of Rowing and Regatta magazine. Tommy was involved in Rowing and Regatta magazine for many years, offering wisdom and much valued support to the editorial team until very recently.

“Tommy encouraged many people to be the best they could, and he could see things in them that they could not”

During this time he gained his national umpire’s licence, subsequently endorsed to cover multi-lane racing and later went on to become a FISA qualified international umpire. Tommy  enjoyed umpiring at many overseas regattas and World Championships, both at home and abroad.

He enjoyed race organisation and whetted his appetite in this field by working on the Vesta Open Events Committee, helping with the Vesta Dashes, the Vesta Scullers HOR and the Vesta International Regatta for Veterans –not the head race of later years but side-by-side racing at Putney. This episode culminated in an invitation to host the World FISA Veterans (Masters) Regatta at Holme Pierrepont which attracted an immense entry.

Later came the various sprint regattas at Dorney Lake, including the special event to celebrate Sir Steve’s five gold medal successes, Millwall Dock and the several events on the Serpentine. He was also invited to join in setting up Henley Women’s Regatta of which he remained a founding member.

Tommy was involved in coaching at club and international level and was part of Dan Topolski’s team with the GB women’s squad in 1980. Three years earlier, he had taken a women’s coxed four to the 1977 World Championships in Amsterdam. He was also involved in trailing the GB boats all over Europe!

Last but not least he was club captain three times in 1957, 1960 and 1967 and was President from 1996 to 2002. Tommy remained an engaged and active past president up to the time of his death.

When not on, or involved with, the water he pursued a successful career as a buyer in the construction industry. His wife Maureen (Mo) is also a leading figure in the rowing world in her own right, being the manager for the GB women’s team at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and manager of the men’s and women’s teams from 1981-84. They were a veritable rowing power couple of their day, and firm advocates of the introduction of women’s rowing at Vesta. Tommy’s support and encouragement of the women’s squad was greatly valued and will be much missed.

Tommy and Maureen met at the wedding of Vesta member Hugh Spivey who was marrying Maureen’s flatmate Veronica. When she discovered Tommy’s commitment to rowing, and on the principle of joining those who one cannot beat, she took up skiffing at the Skiff Club, and then rowed for St George’s Ladies Rowing Club.

Regular attendees at Henley, in Remenham and Stewards they were enthusiastic supporters of club events at Putney, Burns Night Suppers, and Vesta 50 club events. Tommy was a true gentleman, and with Mo, would circulate and draw in newer, nervous club members and make them feel at home, glass in hand.

Paying tribute to Tommy as “one of the great Vesta men”, Paul Baldwin, Honorary Treasurer of Vesta RC, said: “Tommy was the man who guided me through my captaincy, into umpiring, into the chair (the first time), into international events and finally organisational roles at Henley Royal.”

Vesta member, Paul Lorenzato, Head of Community Development at British Rowing, said: “Tommy encouraged many people to be the best they could, and he could see things in them that they could not.

“He is the reason I am at British Rowing. Tommy encouraged me to be a Div Rep and guided me when I became a Board member.”

Thanks to Vesta Rowing Club for their tribute. 

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