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‘Fixer’ who helped found the River and Rowing Museum
Published 12/09/11



DAVID LUNN- ROCKLIFFE, one of the founders of the River and Rowing Museum, died of heart failure on Tuesday, August 23 at the age of 86.

When he retired as executive secretary of the Amateur Rowing Association in 1987, he devoted his energy to raising money to establish a rowing museum in Henley.

He and I, at that time the rowing correspondent of The Guardian, hatched the idea when I returned from Los Angeles in 1984 inspired by an Olympic rowing exhibition to find that David was frustrated by his inability to deal with historical questions that landed on his desk.

We sounded out some museum people and formed a committee of rowers with professional skills and set about finding a site and raising funds. The rowing museum idea rapidly expanded to embrace the river and the town as well.

Over the next few years David took the helm as we negotiated a site out of Henley Town Council, engaged an unknown architect by the name of David Chipperfield to design a building, obtained planning permission and found generous sponsors in Martyn Arbib of Perpetual and Urs Schwarzenbach.


The Queen opened the museum in November 1998 and before the end of 1999 it had collected the museum of the year award, the building of the year award, two visitor attraction awards, two Royal Institute of British Architects awards and an American Institute of Architects commendation for excellence in design.

Born on December 28, 1924, David Lunn-Rockliffe was the youngest son of an English father and Swiss mother. He was raised near Winchester, where his father was a doctor, and went to school at Stowe. He served in Burma during the Second World War with the Worcestershire Regiment before reading land economy at Jesus College, Cambridge.

His working life began as a dairy farmer in Hampshire after which he joined the Institute for Corn and Agricultural Merchants as a development officer.

His love of travel manifested itself in organising study tours for farmers to China and elsewhere.

In 1976, he took the post of director-secretary of the ARA, now called British Rowing, and transformed it from a volunteer-led governing body that was under-manned and under-funded into a professional outfit with paid staff.

He also worked for Goodwood Estates and his own company manufacturing specialist paints before taking on the mantle of the River and Rowing Museum.

During his watch at the ARA, the association organised the world rowing championships in Nottingham in 1986, introduced televised sprint racing, championed women’s rowing, celebrated its centenary with a procession of boats through London that inspired the annual Great River Race, dipped in and out of funding crises and began to attract significant sponsorship from the likes of NatWest Bank, Mobil and British Home Stores and added individual registration with a members’ magazine to what was previously a federation of clubs and regattas.

Lunn-Rockliffe also founded the Rowing Foundation, a charity to support juniors and education causes in the sport.

Most of the problem solving for each stage of the realisation of the museum rested on his shoulders while others got on with designing the galleries and building collections.

He was a fixer. He found Jonathan Bryant to get the whole thing up in time and the present chief executive officer, Paul Mainds, to develop its education role and take its annual visitor numbers beyond the 100,000 threshold.

Lunn-Rockliffe was blessed with a priceless mixture of qualities — effervescent enthusiasm for education, arts, religion, politics and, above all, ideas — and eternal patience of one who knows when to strike.

He was also an extremely good listener. He spent a lot of time probing what makes things tick and arranging off-the-record briefings with anybody who might bring something to the table.

That was how I met him, having my journalistic brains picked about any aspect of rowing from competition to governance.

Those skills he brought to the creation of the River and Rowing Museum but he possessed another attribute.

When there were corridors and galleries, there was laughter rolling through them. He was skilful at bringing out the best in people and reconciling differences to reach a positive end. There are, I am sure, architects, planners, builders, quantity surveyors, curators, bankers, town councillors, politicians and probably paper boys who can testify to that.

There was, of course, another side to David. He scattered stuff about, had the handwriting of a GP and mislaid keys, telephone numbers, important papers, spectacles, coats and brief cases on a daily basis but his charm and humour served to encourage others to help him overcome this affliction.

He married Elizabeth Capron in 1950 and they settled in Wimbledon before moving to Surbiton. When she contracted motor neurone disease they moved to Exeter to be closer to family and he cared for her brilliantly.

After her death in 2001 he created a wild flower garden in her memory in their local churchyard. He is succeeded by their daughters, Caroline, Susan, Claire, Victoria and Nicola, 11 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Published 12/09/11

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