Sunday, 19 September 2021

Tributes paid to coach 'who made a difference'

A THANKSGIVING service was held in Henley for a former Great Britain rowing coach.

A THANKSGIVING service was held in Henley for a former Great Britain rowing coach.

Hundreds of people attended Tuesday’s service at St Mary’s Church in Hart Street, in memory of Ronald Arthur Needs, who passed away in April at the age of 90.

Mr Needs, of Greys Road, Henley, was involved with GB Rowing for more than 30 years with both the lightweight and women’s squads. His crews won three world championship gold medals, three silvers and a bronze.

Among those at the service were Sir David Tanner, performance director for British Rowing, Mark Banks, head coach at Leander Club, and Sir Steve Redgrave, chairman of Henley Royal Regatta.

There were also Olympic medallists including Anna Watkins, Debbie Flood, Andy Triggs Hodge, Cath Bishop, Katherine Grainger and Sarah Winckless as well as many current and former members of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club.

The service was presided over by Rev Canon Martyn Griffiths, the rector of Henley. He welcomed guests and gave a reading from the book of Revelations.

He said: “We come here to give thanks and remember before God Ron Needs for all that he meant to each and every one of you here. For some of you that is a great deal. We give thanks for his life and his work.

“For 1,000 years the people of this town have come here in times of joy and in times of sadness.

“They have come to bring their cares, their troubles and their thanks to God. I suggest we do a little bit of each of those things today.”

Graham Davison, Mr Needs’s nephew, gave the family’s tribute. He said his uncle was born in Chiswick in 1925, the last of eight children.

He continued: “His sisters, including my mother, thought the sun shined out of Ron and they dearly loved him.

“It was his father who introduced Ron to rowing. He started on Strand on the Green, very close to the family home.”

Young Ron attended Chiswick Grammar School, which was moved to High Wycombe during the Second World War but he would still cycle back to Chiswick to row.

He served in the Army from 1943 to 1947. In 1952, he married his wife Katie.

Mr Needs rowed while at the London School of Economics and became a coach in the Sixties.

Mr Davison told the congregation about some of Mr Needs’s other passions, including gardening, opera and ballet.

“Ron was a great designer for gardens and a very keen gardener,” he said. “It was a great relaxation for him away from rowing and business.”

Mr Needs worked as a board member for Beechams, now part of GlaxoSmithKline, and would travel the world for work.

Mr Davison said: “He was a massively respected in both the business and rowing worlds.”

Mr Needs moved to Henley after his wife passed away in 2009.

“He was always there in my life. I will miss him so much,” added Mr Davison.

Bishop, Grainger and Winckless, who were all coached by Mr Needs, paid tribute on behalf of women’s rowing.

He coached the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club to 10 victories in the women’s boat race and last year he had the honour of having a boat named after him at Henley Royal Regatta by the club.

The three rowers told how he was at the forefront of using video technology to improve performance.

“Ron made our wonderful sport of rowing better,” said Bishop. “He was supporting women’s rowing before it was fashionable. I am proud to have known him and called him my friend.”

Grainger spoke about Mr Needs putting together a four and an eight for the world championships in 1997.

She said: “We had not been together long and he managed to harmonise us and bring us together and managed to achieve what nobody has before or since — that was win world championships medals in a four and an eight.

“He let us know when it was not good enough and when we needed to be better. He was tough.”

Winckless read quotes from The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown, which tells the story of the American crew that competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

She said: “Ron loved rowing and books on rowing. They gave him comfort and he was always surrounded by them. Many of them were written by his friends and he loved them because they brought the sport to life.

“Over the years, Ron was an inspiration.”

Sir Steve told how Mr Needs competed at Henley Royal Regatta four times and recalled how one year two of the crews he coached, Quintin and Kingston, raced each other in the Wyfold Challenge Cup.

He said: “They were on the same side of the draw and raced in the semi-finals.

He saw both crews go out. Quentin won that race. They went on the final and narrowly lost to Tideway Scullers.

“Ron was with Team GB from 1972 to 2005 and after that he continued doing the video of all the crews. He coached at four Olympics.

“He was so proud when the team got its best ever results in 2012. Through all that time he was a true amateur giving his time as a volunteer.

“He used to help athletes financially. Rowing was different when they used to have to pay to take part in international regattas. Some could not afford it so he used to put his hand in his pocket.”

Sir Steve said Mr Needs was the first to offer to help as a steward of Henley Royal Regatta, a role to which he was appointed in 1988.

He said: “Last year he was the first one to get his form back even though we did not send him a form!

“We were trying to taper him down but he was always available to do something. He was always putting his sport, crews and country first.

“You don’t have to be noticed to make a difference. Ron made a difference.”

The congregation sang hymns including I Vow to Thee, My Country, Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven and Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided.

After the service, family and friends attended a reception at Leander Club, which flew its flag at half mast in Mr Needs’s memory.

A collection was held in aid of the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed.



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