HUNDREDS of people gathered at St Mary’s Church in Henley to celebrate the life of Upper Thames Rowing Club founder Peter Sutherland.
The pews were packed with friends, family and local dignitaries for Wednesday’s memorial service for the 87-year-old former GB coach, who died last month.
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Mr Sutherland, who had lived in Henley for more than 50 years, founded the club with his wife Diane, to whom he was married for 50 years.
His widow was accompanied at the service by grandchildren Melody, Sylvester and Cleo.
Among the guests were Mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin, South Oxfordshire District Council leader Ann Ducker and Team GB rowers Will Satch and Alex Partridge.
Visitors, many of whom wore rowing club ties and blazers, arrived to a recording of Allegri’s Miserere Mei Deus before being welcomed by the rector, the Rev Canon Martyn Griffiths, who delivered the opening and closing prayers.
In a 10-minute speech to the congregation, Mr Sutherland’s son Justin said: “At times like these, it’s sad to acknowledge the end of a life but it’s also important to speak of a life well-lived and to express gratitude at the passing of a great character.
“Peter’s influence spread far and wide. He was a popular figure on the towpath and on various committees, with an instinctive feel for the big picture and a good coaching eye.
“He had many strengths and, despite a few weaknesses, was a terrific role model. He never allowed other people to disrupt his considerable agenda, which he gently pursued throughout his life, adroitly negotiating the many roadblocks he encountered along the way with a sense of optimism and good humour.” Mr Sutherland spoke of his father’s extensive service record. He was in the Royal Artillery and served as a captain under General Slim in the 14th Army.
He fought the Japanese in Malaya during the Second World War and later against communist forces for control of south-east Asia.
Mr Sutherland said: “It’s difficult for us to imagine today what it must have been like to assume command of grown men at the tender age of 18 and to lead them into uncertainty against a brutal enemy on the other side of the world.
“He had many war stories. He chuckled about the time he told me he was chased by tribesmen in southern India, who would certainly have killed him if they had caught him. His Jeep had broken down on the way out of a village and as he was fixing the engine by the side of the road, he was horrified to see an angry mob come running into view. He escaped with seconds to spare.
“When I asked him why the tribesmen wanted to kill him in the first place, he gave a wry grin and explained that he may, just possibly, have run one or two of them over on the way in.”
Mr Sutherland’s cousin Richard, who gave a reading of Winston Churchill’s Let Us Be Contented, said: “Peter once said to me, ‘You should never spend time regretting what you might have done or what you could have done. Always look forward and think more about what you can do and what you will do.’
“I always remember that somehow — it seemed to be so completely conclusive and really epitomised what Peter was all about. He never regretted anything; he just got on with what could be done in the future.”
Mr Sutherland moved to Henley in 1960, the same year that he coached the Great Britain eight at the Rome Olympics. He was captain of Leander Club from 1960 to 1962. A regular rower until his mid-eighties, he was president of the Henley Masters Regatta and a past president of the Town and Visitors’ Regatta.
He was made an MBE in the Queen’s 2008 birthday honours for his services to rowing. He was also president of the Henley branch of the Conservative Party for more than 50 years.