Dennis, who passed away on 30 May 2016 at the age of 87, was someone who touched the lives of numerous London members after he joined in 1979. He will be remembered with affection at the Club as a steely veteran oarsman and determined coach after an earlier successful sculling and rowing career elsewhere on the Tideway, but also as someone of great charm.
Dennis’ arrival on the Embankment was less than conventional. Brought up in the Midlands and successful in horseridng (a surprise perhaps for someone so tall and rangy) and road race cycling, he gravitated to Stratford BC and took up sculling. He decided to enter the first ever Scullers’ Head in 1954, and was ‘talent spotted’ by no less than ‘Old Berry’ (Julius Beresford, father of the even more famous Jack). He was persuaded to move to the capital and took up residence in Thames RC, where he shared a Resi room with one Alasdair Provan. A bow side oar and in his prime years just on 13 stone, he was soon promoted to join the club’s top crews at Henley and was a member of eights selected to represent England in 1958 in the British Empire Games at Lake Padarn (where he won a bronze medal) and GB in the European Championships in 1959. It can be revealed that in these same years his name also appears on the Boustead Cup plinth.
Dennis was though also an early, if not founding, member of Tideway Scullers’ School with Alasdair. There is a nice story that, when at the News of the World Serpentine Regatta in the late 50s, the weather became increasingly wet and blustery and Alasdair and Dennis ‘helped themselves’ to some plum and mustard-coloured bunting to keep warm; Alasdair subsequently chose these colours for TSS’ livery. Dennis rowed for TSS at Henley in 1963 (losing to London in the Thames Cup) and 1964. He then retired from top level rowing. By then however, he had met a cousin of Alasdair’s from the Anglo-Argentinian diaspora in Buenos Aires, Maureen, who was on a visit to London; the rest as they say is history and she never returned to live in BA. They became a very happy and devoted couple.
Dennis was in due course drawn back to the river in order to keep fit and slim and was encouraged to join London in earnest in March 1979, which had an active veteran squad. He became a Life Member in 1988. But it was as a coach that he established his reputation. He not only coached London crews but also girls from Putney High and boys from City of London. He often did so from his sculling boats “Daisy” and later “Daisey too” (the extra ‘e’ was a signwriter mistake). He was remembered for his patience and good humour, if occasional exasperation, until quite recently with veteran crews, his lucky charges more particularly remembering perhaps the scones and homemade truffles that were distributed at the end of outings or for good results after ergo sessions. He was a pastry chef par excellence.
In many ways Dennis was very much his own man. Arriving on the Embankment on his motorbike looking formidable and fierce in his leathers; taking part in a TV programme about his gardening services on TV (in a programme ambiguously named ‘Personal Services’, one of his customers paying him in bottles of wine rather than cash); entering in a totally uninhibited way into conversations with complete strangers sitting alongside him on the no. 22 bus to and from Putney. Who amongst those who were lucky enough to be invited could forget the huge tea he and Maureen laid on at the clubhouse for his 80th birthday, featuring in particular his swan-shaped choux pastries.
Christopher Grainger drew on a wide range of contributions, from old friends going back to the 1950s, in the address Maureen invited him to make at Dennis’ funeral at Chelsea Old Church. It was a well attended service with rowing club members in good voice for well chosen ‘rowing’ hymns, a fine choir, in a church that he and Maureen had attended for over 40 years. We shall all miss him, and send our condolences to Maureen and their wider families.