Gordon Dear

Gordon Dear (1923-2011)

Gordon Dear (1923-2011) was the only child of Harold Dear and his wife Elsie (nee Carter). He was born in South West London on 27th May 1923, in the same year that two skiff clubs – DSPC and TVSC – were founded. He entered Emanuel School in 1934. On the outbreak of the second world war, the school was evacuated to Petersfield. The first winter was particularly severe and Gordon took part in an impromptu ice hockey match on a frozen pond using makeshift equipment. As Gordon’s team had skates that fell apart and were armed with field hockey sticks, the opponents had a convincing win. Gordon’s more serious sports were rowing and rugby, and at weekends he defied Hitler by returning to the Thames to row. In 1941 he was Captain of Boats at Emanuel. He then went to Imperial College, where he studied electrical engineering. 

Gordon’s degree was interrupted when he was called up and commissioned as a sub lieutenant in the Royal Navy in November 1943. With his background in electrical engineering he became a radar officer. In June 1944 he was serving on HMS Scylla, the flagship of the Eastern Naval Task Force for the D-Day landings in Normandy. After three weeks Scylla was damaged by a mine and Gordon was transferred to aircraft carrier HMS Implacable which initially chased German shipping off  Norway. HMS Implacable was then sent to Pearl Harbour in the Pacific to support the American offensive against Japan. Gordon manned the radar in six operations which sunk 220,000 tons of shipping and destroyed 121 aircraft in a mission that  covered 84,373 miles according to Gordon‘s precise calculations. In 1945, Gordon was transferred to the destroyer HMS Finistierre.

Gordon left the navy in 1947, and started work at the National Physical Laboratory where he worked on the development of radar and hydrophone equipment for submarine detection. Back on dry land he promptly took to boats again by joining Thames Rowing Club in the same year. Recognising a good deal, he paid 25gns for life membership of Thames instead of the 6gns annual subscription. His investment gave him 63 year’s membership. From 1947 to 1973 in competitive racing he achieved 44 wins. In 1955, his Thames crew won Wyfolds at Henley when he was bow steers at 11st 4lb. In the following year Thames wanted to enter two crews in the Stewards’ Challenge Cup to help selectors for the Olympic Games. Gordon was in the second crew which was not allowed to compete in club colours and so was named “RAF MacMillan’s” crew. This crew met the official Thames crew in the first round and lost by just 3 feet. In 1958 Gordon was spare man in the English team in the British Empire and Commonwealth Games. He was  a member of Leander and started skiffing with the Skiff Club in 1959/60. Punting became a new enthusiasm for Gordon in the early 1960s  Off the water, Gordon played coarse rugby for Old Emmanuel in the Extra B side, where he was recalled as a spirited player…ball tucked under his arm…back slightly bent…knees pumping. What you might call a “rower’s run”. In 1973 he was racing in Scullers Head and was in the Thames 7th Eight. He helped revive punting in the 1970s and provided coaching to many novice punters. In 1979 he became ARA umpire. In the course of a long career in electrical engineering in the defence industry, Gordon moved on from NPL to British Aerospace and GEC.

Gordon played rugby until he was nearly 70 and was president of the Old Emanuel RFC from 1987 to 1989 as well as serving many years as president of the Dacre Boat Club for past pupils and parents of Emanuel. He was a regular skier and took two ski holidays a year in Andorra with the Ski Club of Great Britain. He took part in the Great River Race five times, the last being in 2002 at an age just short of 80. He also took part in his last punt race in 2002 which was one of the least distinguished as he swam ashore leaving his partner in the punt. In 2005 took part in the Nelson procession in a replica of the 1829 eight. 

Gordon became President of the Skiff Racing Association, where his encyclopaedic knowledge of the rules provided an answer to any issue. Gordon wrote a definitive history of skiff racing in an article that appeared in the British Rowing Almanack in 2001. With his pipe and half pint, Gordon was in evidence at every regatta and never retired from umpiring skiff or punt races. 

Gordon gave generously to a number of charitable causes. He played the clarinet and had a large collection of classical and jazz music. He was a very light-footed dancer who swept the ladies of their feet and a tireless reveller who saw an evening out to the end. He was the only person to attend 100th and 150th Thames club anniversary dinners. Active to the last, he attended his last SRA meeting in January 2011 and paid justice to the haggis and malt whisky at the Skiff Club Burns night on 27 January. He died in Kingston Hospital on 2nd February 2011 after a short illness, in the company of friends.

Much of the material regarding the history of the SRA and the history of skiff racing is drawn from an article by Gordon Dear in the 2001 Almanack, marking the centenary of the Skiff Racing Association (SRA). This was previously reviewed in the Almanack when ‘Sixty Years of Skiff Racing’ by F.E.K. Foat was published in the 1962 Almanack