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Cygnet Rowing Club
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  • Peter Sly - Benrath Obituary

    Author: Neil Pickford |

    26th March 2015

    Peter Sly

    The late President of our London friends has passed away. For those that knew him, this news is exceptionally sad, as Peter Sly was such a key part to our partnership with Cygnet Rowing Club.

    Peter was a gentleman. Whoever met him commented on his imposing stature, as well as his larger than life gestures and facial expressions. One of my earliest memories is from the 70s: with his enormous hat and his cigar he was "The Godfather" incarnate.

    Peter Sly was a patriarch. I have a vivid memory from 10 years ago during a visit to Henley Regatta how Peter came down from his house above the Thames in order to greet the throng of visitors assembled on the patio by the river.

    Peter Sly was a force for our integration and not just for members from his own club. He was always concerned about the Benrath rowers and their safe journeys while the UK. Through these acts of kindness both Peter and his wife Pat showed enormous hospitality.

    These memories and descriptions of him can barely scratch the surface in describing the fond memories many of us hold for this gentleman, some of us as a result of over 50 years of his friendship with RG Benrath. He himself took great joy in this partnership between the clubs, a good example coming from his congratulatory speech for our 75th anniversary when he said: "Many lasting friendships have been made, although there have so far been no marriages!". You could see him smiling when he said that. He also gave us occasion to smile a lot, for example through his speech to RG Benrath in German.

    The older "Head" competitors from Benrath will remember the "After Head Regatta" at Peter's house in Henley. From the 80s Peter was often in Benrath with his wife Pat, his children Prudence and Oscar as well as his mother-in-law (Peter couldn't really pronounce the German for Mother-in-Law, *Schwiegermutter). Benrathers were always welcome as guests of Peter and Pat when they visited the Thames. And in 2005 we were lucky to enjoy this on a grand scale again at a big party in Peter's garden by the banks of the Thames for the 40th anniversary celebration of the two club's partnership.

    Thank you, Peter. We shall not forget you.

    Ferdi Picker, March 2015

    pdf of the original German version

    (Translated from the original German by former Cygnet Captain Rob Henderson)

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  • Peter Sly - Cygnet Obituary

    Author: Neil Pickford |

    26th March 2015

    Peter Sly, President of Cygnet Rowing Club, 1975 - 2015

    In 1950, an erstwhile club historian wrote "Cygnet had ever been a club to foster the social side'. No member embodied the spirit of that remark more than Peter Sly, Cygnet's longstanding club president, who passed away on 9th March 2015 at the age of 85. He died as he had lived, surrounded by his family in the peace and tranquility of 'Old Blades', his beloved residence at Henley-on-Thames.

    Peter Sly never claimed to be an accomplished oarsman, but he was one of the sport's great extroverts. Nothing pleased him more than 'holding court' at Cygnet lunches and dinners or in the comfort of 'Old Blades', the most select enclosure on the Henley course at regatta time. Indeed, no visit to Henley Royal Regatta was complete without a pilgrimage to 'Old Blades' to be lambasted by Sly for one's shortcomings as a sportsman, a spouse, a club officer or whatever else came to mind.

    Courtship rather than sportsmanship initially enticed Peter Sly into the world of rowing. Peter was smitten with Pat Heron, a business associate at Crown Agents (a government procurement agency for governments overseas), who filled her leisure hours coxing the women's first VIII at the Civil Service Ladies Rowing Club (now BBLRC). Sly rapidly concluded that joint enterprise held the key to a deep and meaningful relationship with Ms Heron, so he joined Cygnet, the men's counterpart of CSLRC.

    More accustomed to the unscrupulous world of big business than the gentle art of pen pushing, Peter Sly took Cygnet by storm. Norman Cowling, an active member at the time, recounts "Peter had an immediate impact on all aspects of club life". In next to no time, Peter's 'can do' attitude had secured the club its first boat trailer and a new coaching launch, shaken up the club social scene and reorganized the club's finances, entrusting the boat fund to a sleek new merchant bank in the City.

    Richard du Parcq, who was doing his first stint as club Treasurer, recalls "I well remember climbing, no staggering, out of Peter's Roller in St James St, after a goodish lunch, for a spot of customer feedback to the bank." Soon afterwards the bank went bust, but not before club funds had been withdrawn in the nick-of-time, following an astute tip-off from Sly.

    Never one to let the grass grow under his feet, in 1972 Peter attained an ARA Silver Coaching Award and promptly set about putting it into practice. Success followed a few months later with an easy win for a Cygnet Novice Vlll at Worcester. While this would be his only claim to coaching fame, his greatest contribution to the sport lay in the world of women's rowing.

    By the mid-1970s, Pat was juggling multiple roles as Mrs Sly, Captain of CSLRC and Secretary for the Womens' (National) Rowing Committee. These were formative times for women's rowing: CSLRC had graduated to the nucleus of the women's national squad, while several CSLRC members would participate in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Peter was hugely supportive throughout, becoming a serial cheer leader for women's rowing, a renowned supporter at home and international regattas and a champion of Henley Women's Regatta.

    A man for all seasons, Peter Sly was the obvious choice for Cygnet club president, an office he was invited to fill in 1975 and one he held until his dying day, a time span of 40 years. Reputedly the longest serving club president on the Tideway, Peter once quipped that it was the least onerous post he had held in his life, apart from Church Warden. In reality, he moulded the presidency to suit his character and the two were ultimately indistinguishable.

    Peter Sly never won a Henley medal, but he had the next best thing: a superior piece of real estate located half way along the Henley course. Suitably lubricated with a glass of wine or two, Peter would happily recount how in 1977 he was alerted at the eleventh hour (by Len Huggett) to the auction of two riverside workmen's cottages close to Remenham. Sly subsequently 'bet the ranch' to acquire the two properties and the builders moved in to transform them into 'Old Blades'.

    A high spot of the early years of Peter's presidency was the President's Lunch held in the River Room at Old Blades where momentous decisions were taken, but none remembered. These occasions were always preceded by generous libations at the Flower Pot while Pat was slaving over a hot stove back at base.

    Always happy to imbibe with the 'Last of the Summer Wine' set, Peter was equally at home with the younger membership, or quaffing 'Alt' beer with our friends at R G Benrath in Germany. Some members were greater butts of his jokes than others, but he was a shrewd judge of character and had a warm spot in his heart for everyone. 'Old Blades' rarely turned away a deserving waif or stray.

    Latterly, Peter was often to be found taking 'walks' along Remenham Lane on his mobility buggy, wearing one of his 'trade mark' wide brim hats. This mode of transport suited him very well and allowed him to arrive in style at the President's Lunch at Remenham Club during regatta week. Following a lunch replete with port and brandy, he would happily motor back up the towpath to 'Old Blades', oblivious to all the regatta goers who had been mown down in his wake.

    In sum, to quote Norman Cowling again, "Peter Sly was a genuine life enhancer. You could not have a dull time in Peter's company; he would not allow it." The rowing world will be a poorer place without Peter Sly; at Cygnet he will be sorely missed as the club prepares to celebrate its 125th anniversary, devoid of its most vociferous dignitary.

    Paul Rawkins, 20th March 2015

    peter sly x3

    (pdf version available here)

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  • Fred Blasberg

    Author: blogster |

    12th December 2014

    Dear Cygnet Friends,

    Some of you will have known and some will remember
    Fred Blasberg, who died a little over two weeks ago. He was involved at the very beginning of our partnership with the Cygnets and would very much have enjoyed celebrating our half century with you next year. Unfortunately that was not be. He died aged 81 after a long illness.

    Fred was one of our few honorary members. He was an active rower for over 60 years and held various positions on our management board. These began with responsibility for our youngsters and culminated in three decades as club secretary and editor of our club magazine. 

    He held many rowing honours, and in 2004 was awarded the equator prize for having rowed 40,000 Km.

    Because of his deep and constant involvement with our club and its members, both young and old, he held a very special place in our hearts. He had a prodigious and encyclopaedic memory, an open ear for our troubles and the twinkling eyes of a committed and enthusiastic rower. We called him, with great respect, Mr. RGB.

    All the best

    Nick (Kennedy)

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