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Cygnet Rowing Club
on the Tideway since 1890
CSSC Sports and Leisure

Ken O'Brien

17th August 2023

Kenneth O’Brien 

1947 – 2023

It is with great sadness that we record the death of Ken O’Brien on Thursday, 3 August, at the age of 76, after a lengthy hospital confinement.

A loquacious individual, which earned him the nickname Kenny O’Burble, Ken was a member of Cygnet for a relatively short space of time (1981–84), yet no one could deny that he left his mark.

Ken initially joined the club as a social member and swiftly set about running the 300 Club (with Phil Beckett, an unlikely combination) and organising social fixtures from afternoon teas to stag nights at the White Hart. A people person at heart, he had a knack of lubricating the wheels of social intercourse, often keeping us late into the night at the club bar or the Sun Inn, one of our favourite haunts at the time.

Always up for a party, Dave Jillings recalls “Kenny throwing petrol on the bonfire at a CRC/CSLRC Guy Fawkes night with predictable consequences. When he arrived at A&E they said he was the first casualty of many they were expecting that evening”. Singed eyebrows notwithstanding, it was “his irrepressible optimism and bounciness that made him so likeable, and I hope that is the main thing he will be remembered for”.

In 1982 Ken surprised everybody by announcing that he had decided to join the ranks of the active rowing squad. Not the most obvious physical build for the sport, he nevertheless defied the naysayers, thundering around the Chiswick gym on Tuesdays, weightlifting on Wednesdays and jogging round the five-mile run on Thursdays. Few could doubt his sheer determination; stones of weight were shed, and he made his debut competitive appearance in the 1983 Head of the River Race, rowing at bow.

However, his greatest achievement afloat was winning Novice Vllls at Hammersmith Regatta a few weeks later. Coxed by Colin Dominy, the crew was a sight to behold ranging between tall and short, large and small, young and old. Nonetheless, once in motion it proved to be an unstoppable force, cruising to an easy win in its maiden regatta. Further regatta appearances followed, culminating in the Rhine Marathon, all 42kms of it, a true feat of endurance as fellow crew member Charles Pepino recalls, “but we lived to tell the tale and sink one or two Altbiers afterwards”.

Professionally, Ken was an insurance broker, which played to his people skills. However, he was never at one with the paperwork and saw his true calling in life as proprietor of a local wine bar, plying the upwardly mobile of Barnes with vodka cocktails in the then defunct Waterman’s Arms, opposite the boat club. Market research followed with flurries of questionnaires handed out at Barnes Station. Sadly, his bankers were less convinced and it remained a pipe dream but, such was his indomitable spirit, he clung to the scheme for years afterwards. One wonders what he would have had to say about the Waterman’s latest incarnation as a cocktail bar and fancy restaurant.

Ken had given up active rowing by the mid-1980s, but he remained a fixture on the social scene and never more so than at semi-annual gatherings with our companion club Benrath in Germany. The accompanying photograph was taken following the 1983 Rhine Marathon with Ken characteristically centre stage. Benrath found Ken something of an enigma leading one of them to ask “What is the function of Kenny in your club”. The answer must surely be “all of the above”; he was fun to be around and just carried on regardless.

Ken’s funeral will be held at 2.20pm on 11 September at Kingston Crematorium, Bonner Hill Road, Kingston KT1 3EZ. All welcome.

Paul Rawkins, August 2023


Author: Neil Pickford


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