John Russell, who died on 22nd January aged 83, was briefly a member of London in his early 20s during which he won the Wingfield Sculls in 1959, coached by Doug Melvin. He later moved on to other clubs to continue a distinguished sculling and, in particular, rowing career.
Coming from a professional rowing family which had started its own metal polishing business (specialising in heavy propellers) in Brentford after WWII, John first joined Parkside RC which was based at the West End Boathouse on Lower Mall, Hammersmith. Parkside belonged to the National Amateur Rowing Association, which merged with the ARA in 1956.
John showed early promise on the water and was keen to progress his career. London was the club of choice for scullers at the time (it had an almost unbroken run of Wingfield wins from 1948 to 1961). Peter Fraser’s father, Hugh Fraser (who was in the winning 1938 LRC Grand crew, and a solicitor) had advised the family firm, and may have provided an introduction. So off John went downstream to the Embankment in the 1957 season, aged 21.
Weighing in at around 12 stone 10 lbs, in 1957 he stroked the London Grand crew, and doubled up in the Stewards’ reaching the final against Krylia Sovetov, a race that was marred when LRC hit the booms at the ¾ mile. In 1958 he again rowed in the Grand and Stewards’, losing to the eventual winners in both events.
The 1959 Wingfields was, according to the Rowing Almanack account, “one of the finest races for many years”. His main opponent was Justicz of Birmingham RC who striking 30 led John, sculling at 25, as far as Barnes Railway Bridge. John then raised his rate to 28 and overhauled Justicz a minute later, winning a well-judged race by 2½ seconds in 22m. 37 secs. Two months later John entered the Diamonds, getting through one round.
It was at this point that John was ‘poached’ by Colin Porter to row for Molesey and Barn Cottage 1960-63 and in turn by Bill Barry to join Tideway Scullers in 1964. This period is well documented in Chris Dodd’s history of the Club (John appears in a photograph on page 201). The same year John reached the pinnacle of his career, winning a silver medal stroking the GB Coxless Four at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. He won the Stewards’ 4 times (in 1965 in a Quintin crew) and was a regular winner of the HORR. He was also 1st equal with Birkmyre (Ariel) in the Scullers’ Head in 1962, and finished in the top six in that event in no less than 7 other years between 1957 and 1966.
‘Tubby” Bryant, a contemporary at London, remembers John Russell, aside from all his success, always being modest, friendly and pleasant to row with. John retired from the family company in 1999, which is now a prominent high tech marine engineering firm based in Southampton, the employees having increased from 3 at Brentford to 80 today – CJR Propulsion Ltd. John last visited the Club for a Wingfields dinner in the Members’ Room.