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A Tribute to our Founder, John Browne

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of our club founder and Honorary Club Captain, John Browne.

John founded the University of St Andrews Boat Club back in 1962. Although having rowed at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle, John decided to pursue his "lifelong interest in aviation" upon joining St Andrews. After being turned away for poor eyesight, he decided to follow his other passion; by building a rowing club, with famously “no water, nobody to row with, no boat and no oars.”

Deciding where to row was the first obstacle. John didn’t have a car and set out to each possible location by train or bicycle. Firstly, he tried the Harbour in St Andrews, but the area was too short and subject to tides. The Tay Estuary near Dundee was deemed too windy and Cameron Reservoir had strict fishing regulations. One day, when passing through Guardbridge on the train, John saw the Eden at high tide looking peaceful and found his perfect spot. Getting access to the water proved difficult, but luckily the Guardbridge Paper Company gave him the go-ahead.

With no social media or internet, John used good old-fashioned flyers that he put up around the university’s halls of residence to attract his teammates. In the 1960s, the University of St Andrews and Dundee University formed the same institution. Rowers in Dundee would take the train down to Leuchars to practice with the St Andrews students.

John’s high school gave him an old wooden four that was brought up on the train; it would be the first and only boat that rowers could train in. The club raced in Glasgow or Aberdeen where regatta committees would provide them with boats to race in.

The boys trained as the club still does now, with water training on Wednesday afternoons and at weekends. As rowing machines hadn’t yet been invented in the 1960s, land training took the form of beach runs along West Sands.

After graduating from St Andrews, John joined a college rowing club at Oxford University. In his working life, he often drew on the invaluable skills he had gained setting up the Boat Club at St Andrews, especially when creating his own business, Catalyst Consultants.

The club reconnected with John a few years ago, having lost touch some years previously. John visited St Andrews on numerous occasions over the last few years, seeing the club transition from Perth Sailing Club to Loch Ore. John’s visits were hugely special occasions for those of us in the club, not only to show our progress, but also to listen to John’s stories from the early years of the club. As John would recount on each of his visits, it has been the spirit of the club that has seen us through many challenges and tough moments, of which there have been many.

Given these moments, it was extremely special earlier this year in July to see John witness our Senior Men’s Prince Albert coxed four reach the Semi-Finals of Henley Royal Regatta. For John to see us competing at that level, from the foundations which he built, is something that all club members, present and past, can be hugely proud of.

As John said on many of his visits, he was always hugely thankful for the support of his wife, Christine, throughout his long and successful rowing career, from St Andrews to Oxford and then Royals Chester.

John’s resilience and perseverance built the foundations of the club and we look forward to continuing to honour his legacy in the coming years.

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