Colonel Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey, who passed away on 8 November 2013 aged 84, was a man of many parts and larger than life.  He joined the Club in 1959 in the middle of an Army and Air Corps career which started in 1947 and took him overseas to Korea and Malaya on active service, Germany, East Africa, Suez and Aden. 

Hickey’s interpretation of the strain on Captain Keith TicehurstWhen on postings to London he would come to LRC and speak at Wednesday night dinners and give hilarious accounts of his military life, which will be warmly remembered. He continued irregular rowing “until his knees gave up in 1996” and was instrumental in organising an LRC visit to a regatta in Berlin. Michael was an excellent cartoonist, often using the back of menu cards at annual dinners; a number of his witty works of art hang in the clubhouse. He was also an ‘official’ cartoonist for the Club’s 125th anniversary publication in 1981.

Michael occupied his retirement as a noted military historian, writing books on airborne warfare, Gallipoli, and the First World War, and was a research fellow in military studies at both Birmingham University and Kings College, London.  A favourite relaxation was choral singing – he won a bursary, and had been head chorister, at Magdalen College School, as had his father and grandfather – and his life was remembered fittingly at a choral evensong in the College Chapel.

We send our belated condolences to his wife, Bridget, and their two sons.  Their household included two dogs and at one time “a domesticated turkey”. 


Sir John Mayhew-Sanders

John Mayhew-Sanders, who died on 1 November 2013 aged 82, was elected Captain of the Club in the centenary year 1956.  Whilst serving in the Royal Navy he completed an engineering degree at Jesus College, Cambridge, and rowed in the college’s winning Ladies’ Plate crew in 1953 at 5.  He then followed the well-trodden path to London, which had started in the 1930s under Steve Fairbairn’s influence. The Club’s Centenary Dinner on 11 October 1956 was held at the Grocers’ Hall during John’s term of office and it fell to him to respond to the Toast to the Club delivered by Viscount Bruce of Melbourne, the former Prime Minister of Australia.  John was in his mid-20s by the time he was elected captain, and had embarked upon articles with his father’s accountancy practice in Oxford Street, so he did not row at Henley in 1957. He rejoined the Club in 2001 after being sought out and invited to a Captains’ dinner in November that year, but in the event was unable to attend.

John pursued a leading career in management consultancy and industry, was active in promoting Anglo-Soviet trade, and was appointed a member of the Government’s British Overseas Trade Board.  He was knighted for services to exports in 1982. 


Michael Hill

British Rowing made the following announcement on 10 March 2015:

Michael Hill, the missing Latymer Upper School, London and Thames rowing coach, was recovered from the Tideway on Monday and has been formally identified. The 48-year-old coach had been missing since an apparent capsize on the River Thames at Putney on 2 February. 

Michael had an enormous impact on crews he coached on the Tideway and friends from Latymer, London and Thames gathered to cherish his memory earlier last month.  On 13 February an informal gathering was held at Latymer with many of the school attending including British Rowing Chairman Annamarie Phelps and the RNLI crew who had been involved in the search for Michael.  

Two days later more friends and family remembered Michael at the Boustead Cup – the historic annual fixture between eights from Thames and London RC.  London RC’s Alan Foster paid tribute to a coach whose zest for life made rowing fun for the many people he came across, saying: “At Latymer a display board was crammed with postcard-sized tributes from his J15 and WJ15 crews. I cannot hope to tell you what was in each one but certain phrases recurred about ‘Hilly’ as he was known, such as: ‘kind’, ‘patient’, ‘true gentleman’, ‘made my rowing fun’ and ‘always up for a laugh’.

A row-over was performed by women’s crews from both clubs as a tribute to Michael, who had been coaching a crew from Thames on the evening of 2nd February.  

Then, instead of a minute’s silence, family members requested a minute’s applause. Annamarie Phelps said: “Michael was a hugely popular figure among the rowing community along the Tideway and his enthusiasm for coaching always shone through. On behalf of British Rowing, our condolences are with Michael’s family, the school and clubs at this sad time. He is much missed.”

Amy Fenton writes:

Having initially joined London Rowing Club as a full rowing member in 1990 whilst working as a violin restorer, Michael returned to LRC in 2012 as a member of the coaching team. He had recently started coaching at Latymer Upper School but was also eager to come back to his former club which to him felt “like coming home”.

Following the launch of the Learn to Row programme in the summer of 2012, Michael bravely took on the leadership of the newly formed Development Squad, which he subsequently coached for two years, with gusto. Under his direction, over twenty adult novices were successful in gaining their first points within months of picking up blades. Notable successes were achieved at local regattas on the Tideway, at Marlow Spring Regatta, at the Club’s own Metropolitan Regatta, and the end of season trips to St Neots Regatta, which in 2014 saw LRC crews victorious in seven of their ten finals (see below).


Michael was well known at the Club for his friendly and humorous character. But he will also be particularly remembered for his great empathy and kind nature. He took the time to get to know his squad members as individuals, and to understand the professional and family commitments which competed for their training hours. He strove to develop a flexible yet challenging programme which respected and maximised their limited time. Above all, he delivered this with an infectious enthusiasm for the sport, an incredible patience and an uproarious sense of humour, which incentivised his athletes to go the extra mile whilst enjoying every opportunity to train and race. Perhaps even more notable than the successes achieved by his squad on the water, is the fact he created a tight-knit, unbreakable family of rowers who cherish the time he gave them, the skills he taught them and the very happy memories he leaves them to continue to share with one another.

In addition to the Development Squad, Michael was also the lead coach on several of the Club’s Learn to Row courses, enabling over 50 beginners to experience the joy of taking to the water in the summer months, with many progressing into the Development Squad and some beyond to the Senior Squad and to race at Henley.  Memories of Michael from those who knew him for just a short time on these courses make reference to his wonderful sense of humour, his supportive and welcoming personality and his unshakable passion for rowing.

Michael will be dearly missed by those who had the pleasure of training under his direction at London and by his very many friends, pupils and colleagues within the wider club and rowing community.

Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are extended to Michael’s family, in particular his three children; Christian (a talented rower himself), Sam and Emily of whom he was an immensely proud father, to their mother Peridot, and to his partner Sara and her family.


Daniel Topolski

As has been widely reported in the media, Dan Topolski passed away on Saturday 21 February 2015 in London after a lengthy battle against leukaemia, at the age of 69. Others will speak of his coaching career at OUBC and at GB level, and as a producer, journalist, author and commentator.  This note will speak of him as a London man, which he was through and through. 

Dan was elected to LRC at the age of 19 in 1964.  He was the son of Feliks Topolski  (a famous artist with a very distinctive style of drawing, and a favourite of our Patron;  his witty portrayal of Henley heavies hangs in the Fairbairn Room).  Dan joined from Westminster School, where he had been in the first eight, rowing twice in the PE Cup, and was elected Head of the Water (captain of rowing in Westminster-speak).

Dan was a lightweight par excellence, weighing in at just over 10 stone at school and 11 to 11 ½ stone in much of his rowing and sculling career.  Despite his modest dimensions, he was to bring LRC into winning mode from the late 60s until the mid-70s with sheer technical skill and tenacity.  He rowed on either side of the boat and was equally happy at opposite ends, be it bow or stroke, but he probably favoured the 7 thwart in eights the most.

He first rowed in an LRC crew at Henley the year he joined, and then after two Boat Races and Isis/OUBC crews, his rowing career took off after he returned to the Club in 1969.  He won the Wyfold that year, in the Club’s first post-WWII win in fours, at bow with Nick Cooper, Peter Harrison and Chris Blackwall.  The crew was later selected to represent GB in the European Championships (precursor of the World Championships).  In 1970 he won the Britannia with Cooper, Sturge and Dart and cox R Sherman.  He was central to LRC’s successful involvement in lightweight rowing in the 70s, culminating in the gold medal he won in the lightweight eight in the World Championships in Amsterdam in 1977.  The crew (with Ray Penney on board as cox) also won the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley that year - quite exceptional for a lightweight crew! His last year representing GB was in the following year.  He was elected a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta in December 1991.

Dan kept a sculling boat at the Club and was a successful sculler.  More recently he would come down, usually during the day, for an outing, on occasion with his son Luke in a club double.  He was one of the first to be elected to Honorary Membership when the honour was revived in 2001.  The Club is on the point of naming one of its new eights after Dan, and a framed photo of him for the new ‘internationals wall’ on the main entrance was being discussed with him in the weeks before his death.  Sadly, he was taken from us before he could unveil them both.

There is an expression to describe excellence, “of the first water”, and this may be quite an apt way of describing best his standing and powers of friendship that he brought to rowing and LRC life, and how he contributed to the Club’s success.  We were lucky to have him amongst our membership.  Our sympathy and condolences go out to his family.

(Photos courtesy of John Shore)


Nigel Smith

We are very sorry to have to announce the death on 20 February 2015 of Nigel Smith at the Trinity Hospice on Clapham Common, at the age of only 54.  As those who have been closer to the Putney scene will be aware, he was diagnosed during the course of last year with cancer of the colon, and had been valiantly fighting the condition since.

Nigel with the Secretary's Cup which he donated to the Met

His successor as Hon. Secretary, Julian Ebsworth, writes:

Nigel André Smith was born and bred in Putney, started in rowing administration at the age of 16, and dedicated much of the rest of his life to the sport.  He was a devoted servant to the Club for nearly three decades, without equal, but also found the time to contribute to rowing at large, both on the Thames and at international level.  He was a fixed and certain presence in the sport, bringing his own particular style to all that he did, and when he wasn’t running the show he was a constant behind-the-scenes presence.

Born on 24 January 1961, Nigel’s schooling started at Glengyle School in Carlton Drive, Putney (very much an ‘old style’ boys’ prep school which would probably horrify today’s inspectors, and sold on in 1986; there is an entertaining series of recollections from alumni on a weblog), then Emanuel School where he first came into contact with rowing. One of his coaches was Charles Dimont (of happy memory, LRC member and one time Chairman of the Met Regatta), who was to introduce him to school rowing admin. Nigel never forgot Emanuel, going back to help coach 3rd year squads on Saturday mornings for many years. Through Charles he was also introduced to LRC in 1977.

His career in LRC administration started straightaway:  Entries Secretary in 1979, when he was still at school, and 1980;  Assistant Hon Secretary in what was the busy 125th anniversary year 1981; and then the following year Maurice Rayner stepped down as Hon Secretary, a position Nigel was to occupy for the next 22 years until 2003, a record term of any office in the club.  The load on the Hon Secretary was heavy, as it included the full burden of membership duties.  This was not done without some dry humour at times, sending out one year for example subscription notices dated Christmas Day (and he probably was in the office that day). He left to his successors some carefully kept files, records and memorabilia; he knew the London Boat House Company articles of association, the bye-laws and the residents’ rules backwards. To be on the wrong side of Nigel in these matters was not altogether a beneficial experience.

A host of appointments sprang up alongside his LRC duties. Charles Dimont introduced him to regatta administration with the Met.  He joined the Committee in 1980 and then in 1983 succeeded Bernie Regan as Hon Secretary, being central to the regatta’s growth to one of the largest rowing events in the country over the next 25 years.   In 1981 Nigel joined the National Championships Committee for 10 years, first as Assistant Secretary and then as Hon Treasurer.  He was active with the River Thames Society.  Peter Coni was instrumental in fulfilling Nigel’s ultimate aim, namely to assist at Henley Royal Regatta, where he was appointed a Chairman’s Assistant.  Nigel never competed at HRR, but in 1989 (the 150th anniversary of the first Henley) he took over Peter’s thwart at short notice in a unique LRC Captains’ 12-oared crew. To his delight he rowed at 6, still armed with his radio and two pagers, and enjoyed the procession past the enclosures.

Nigel also turned his skills to umpiring.  He qualified as an umpire on home waters in 1983;  his first disqualification was of a Thames RC crew in a final at Maidenhead Regatta (good man). He gained the multi-lane umpiring endorsement in 1994 and then progressed to international level, obtaining a FISA licence in 1999.  He was to serve  at some nine FISA and other international events, including Masters and a World Cup in Hazewinkel, over the next seven years. He was a strict, but fair, umpire.

Nigel’s gainful ‘weekday ’ employment had been in company secretary work at chartered accountants’ firms in the City.  He decided to make a complete break for a new career on the river in his late 40s and, to his great credit, he decided to train for a Maritime and Coastguard Agency National Boatmaster’s Licence, which he gained in 2012. He became a Craft-Owning Freeman of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen two years later. 

These notes are mainly based on two sides of closely typed A4 that, bless him, Nigel wrote about himself some six or so years ago.  He modestly omitted to mention that the ARA Chairman, Di Ellis, presented him at the 2002 annual dinner (on board Tom Woods’ Silver Sturgeon) with an International Olympic Committee diploma to mark the 2001 International Year of Volunteers, signed by Juan Antonio Samaranch, “for a remarkable contribution, as a volunteer, to the development of sport  ...”.  Nigel was given a large Dickinson & Foster lithograph of Victorian Henley worthies after his years as LRC Hon Secretary.  But he probably treasured most a specially struck gold Met medal that he received on retirement from the office of Secretary after 25 regattas, in 2008.

Nigel’s last few several years were not the easiest for him, but he had good and considerate friends on the Embankment. We must thank Chas Newens, Adrian Sanmogan and family, and the Trinity Hospice on Clapham Common, for being a bedrock for him in his final months and weeks as he battled with his pernicious illness.  Rowing is now the poorer for Nigel’s departure at such an unreasonably early age.