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Tim Wilson, 1929-2018

Tim Wilson in 1959 (photo thanks to Tees RC)

Timothy Peter Wilson has died at the age of 88, after a short illness.

Tim grew up in Hadleigh, in the southern part of Suffolk, where his family were grain merchants, millers and malters.

Having learned to row while at school at Radley, he joined Thames in 1948. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his relative shortness for an oarsman, he was often at bow. Having started in the Thames Cup eight in this position in 1949, in 1950 he moved up to the Grand eight, despite weighing only 9st 7lb. In 1951 he was bow and steersman in a Wyfold four; in 1953 he was back in the Thames Cup eight, this time at 2.

Although studying at Oxford had been envisaged, he did not take this route, instead taking articles and qualifying as a chartered accountant. He then went to work for Imperial Chemical Industries, where he was to spend his whole career. Eventually he would become the chief internal auditor, under the chairmanship of Sir John Harvey-Jones.

In the 1950s, his work took him to the North East of England, for a spell at ICI’s large plant at Billingham, County Durham. Tim was involved in internal audit, and would later tell stories of one man who took home a roll of platinum gauze to use as chicken wire having no idea of its value, and another who aroused suspicion at the gates when his bicycle fell over and he was unable to lift it up again – it was found that he’d filled the frame with valuable metals that he was attempting to smuggle out. It was while in County Durham that Tim joined his second club, Tees RC, where he later became a vice-president and had a boat named after him.

By this time he had also taken up his other sporting love, skiing. He went annually with friends to Lech am Arlberg in Austria, until quite late in life. John McConnell recounts that after one winter snowfall, Tim was seen skiing down Putney Hill to get to the clubhouse.

On his return to London from Billingham, Tim again settled in Putney and renewed his connection with Thames. His last time in a racing boat may well have been the sponsored row he undertook in the mid-1970s to fundraise for the club, when he and Jean Rankine took a double scull to Richmond Lock and back. By that time he was on his way to becoming a vital, if idiosyncratic, part of the fabric of the club.

Tim served as an unpaid club bookkeeper for at least forty years, including a stint as the Hon. Treasurer in the early 1980s. Sharp-eyed, and always keeping abreast of changes in tax law, he saved the club a vast amount of money both in terms of his volunteer labour and in errors corrected, frauds detected, tax advantages exploited, efficiencies enforced and debts chased down.

One oft-repeated story, which may or may not be apocryphal, has him taking a pair of scissors and a stock of TRC ties into the Stewards Enclosure at Henley. The scissors were to cut off the tie of anyone he spotted whose subscription had lapsed; the new tie was to be proffered for sale to the victim after his arrears were paid.

More significant were Tim’s efforts which ensured that a large amount of tax was recovered on the construction and fit-out of the Burrough Building in 2005, an irony given his deep suspicion of the need for a new gym. He was also a familiar face to the staff of Barclays Putney as he banked the weekly bar takings – a potentially hazardous task on those days after Head of the River parties when he was carrying over £10,000 in cash with him on his bike.

Tim also became the guardian – first with Geoffrey Page, and later on his own – of the club’s archives, pictures, trophies and memorabilia. While his methods were sometimes unorthodox, he helped ensure that this invaluable collection survived the ravages of time. He additionally provided a living link to the ‘good old days’ of the club, with a fund of stories and observations.

In 2010, in recognition of his many services to Thames, he was appointed a vice-president. Additionally two coxless fours were named after him. The second ‘Tim Wilson’ won the Visitors’ Challenge Cup in 2016 and is still in use as the top men’s four.

Tim was a shy man and cultivated a gruff, irascible manner. This became more pronounced in his old age as he was troubled by constant pain in his legs. Moreover he did not, as he would admit, especially like change and sometimes found himself out of tune with the modern world. He had never, for example, entirely accepted that the club was right to cease entering crews for the Grand in the 1960s, or to begin admitting women in the 1970s. However there was also undoubtedly an element of exaggeration for effect in his grumbles about such things.

In any case, for those who got to know him better, he was – as one of his clubmates put it -‘crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside’. He could be very entertaining company as he cast his witty and sceptical eye over the state of the club, the country and the world at large – often with the assistance of a clipping from the Daily Telegraph that had caught his eye.

Tim had in recent years suffered from a number of health problems and had, understandably, been upset by the thinning of the ranks of his Sunday morning ‘half pint club’ of drinking friends (notably Bernard Churcher, David Fairbairn, Eric Sjoeberg, David King, Bryan Gauld and Andrew Paterson). However he was still down at the clubhouse almost daily, until very recently.

Tim is survived by a number of cousins, nephews and nieces.

James Elder

The funeral service will be held at Putney Vale Crematorium on Tuesday 8 May at 12.15pm. A wake will be held afterwards at Thames Rowing Club from around 1.15pm. If you are planning to attend, please email hello@thamesrc.co.uk to help the family and club manage the arrangements.

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