Colin Ellis

Members of Kingston Rowing Club have been saddened to hear the news that Colin Ellis died on December 7th in Namibia, at the age of 49.  

Colin joined KRC in 1968 from Kingston Grammar School (and won Novice eights at Pangbourne & Whitchurch Centenary Regatta that year), stepped into the KRC Thames Cup eight in 1969 as a substitute, and stroked the Leander eight to win the Thames Cup in 1970.  He was a member of the Kingston eight which reached the Thames Cup final in 1971, stroked the Marlow Britannia four in 1972 and the Saxon Britannia four in 1973, then appeared in the E.T.u.F. Essen Thames Cup eight in 1974.  In 1975 he stroked the Kingston Britannia four, and in 1976 he was to have stroked the Hansa Dortmund four which withdrew from the Stewards'.  In 1977, Colin was at bow in the Kingston eight which reached the semi-final of the Thames Cup (and I was privileged to be the coxswain of that crew).  

Colin will be remembered not only for his performances in major events such as HRR, but also for his enjoyment of all parts of the sport.  A number of British oarsmen were lucky enough to be involved in the memorable trips which Colin organised (in the name of clubs real and imaginary) to various German regattas such as Leer and Bochum-Witten.  These trips were not always trouble-free, as we found when on arrival in Czechoslovakia to compete in the FISA Veterans Regatta (while the Iron Curtain was still in place) we found that Colin hadn't arranged any accommodation;  even the promised visit to the Pilsen brewery proved to be impossible, so this was an occasion when it was literally true to say that "he couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery".  Colin was often responsible for coining nicknames for other members of his crews [as I well remember, from the evening in the bar of Leer Rowing Club when Colin decided that the eagle of St John on my Lady Margaret Boat Club cap looked not so much like an eagle but more like "Sooty with wings", hence Sooty I have been ever since], and he himself was affectionately known as "Vampire" [for the origins of this, see Patrick Fennessy's message below].  Although we tended to regard him as something of a rebel, he did his bit for the establishment and served for a time as ARA Divisional representative for division 15, and as a member of the ARA Regattas Committee, and was for some time an ARA umpire.  He also served for periods as Chairman and as Hon. Secretary of Kingston Rowing Club.  He competed also for Dittons Skiff & Punting Club (and achieved the rare feat of capsizing a skiff during a race), and there is a long list of rowing clubs (at home and abroad) that he represented over the years.  Many people will remember his time at LSE, and the convertible coxed/coxless four (named "Tyranny of the Majority" and "Dictatorship of the Proletariat").

Colin will be sadly missed by his many friends in the rowing world;  they will all have their own happy memories of one of the true characters of the sport.  Our sympathy goes to his family.

New information:  A memorial service was held for Colin on Friday 4th February at 2.30 pm at St Nicholas' Church, Summer Road, Thames Ditton, and after at Dittons Skiff & Punting Club.  Colin's ashes were spread in the Thames.

If any of you have your own memories of Colin and you would like me to include them here, please e-mail me.

This message from Colin's brother, Tony Ellis:

"Some of you may wonder why Colin was in Namibia??  He went on holiday there earlier this year and saw an opportunity for a deal so went back in May, but true to Colin's form it all went wrong ...... we believe, but never really found out.

He had to leave Namibia quickly!!! and went to Cape Town where his life style caught up with him.  He was in hospital for a couple of months with liver problems.  He managed to bluff his way out of the country in September and travel back to the UK with a doctor in tow.  He spent a few days at home with mum and I took him to Henley for the Skiff champs, it was then I realised he wanted to see some of his favourite places one more time.

He was admitted to Kingston soon after and discharged himself in October and took the return leg of his flight to South Africa.  We can only think he wanted to go somewhere he liked to end his days and give us less worry.  I have spoken to the nurse at the hospital who let me know he died peacefully after 4 days in Swakopmund State Hospital, Namibia where he died aged 49 on 7th December.

We plan to have Colin cremated in Namibia and will have a service in late January [now 4th Feb, see above] and a " Celebration of his life " at Dittons or KRC and will spread his ashes in the Thames. "

This memory from Roger Wiggin:

"In the mid-70s, four of us - my brother Charlie, George Proffitt, Vamp and me - somehow made our way to East Germany in an old Mercedes on a circumspect mission to get hold of a copy of the infamous publication -Rudern.

We managed this feat but not without causing some consternation - another story!

The day we returned to West Germany, we were dressed in Arab gear and holding up the exhaust by a length of rope - which went out of one rear door, under the car and in through the other rear door. We were pre-occupied with the exhaust and keen to get back to 'civilisation' too keen as it turned out as in a blinding flash we were caught in a speed trap. We were pulled in a short way up the road. Vampire, who was driving, remonstrated with the police officer in his confident but broken German that he was the Herzog von Dumbarton (Baron of Dumbarton) that we were from Scotland and that we had no money with which to pay the on-the-spot fine which was due. I don't think the policeman had previously encountered such a bizarre travelling band and stared at the passengers, occasionally gazing skywards. We had to pay the fine and in Marks - so we paid using East German Marks which were virtually worthless in the west and sped off, leaving the policeman scratching his head in a state of utter bemusement."

This message from Patrick Fennessy:

"Colin was known as "Vamp"; the origin of this name goes back 30 years to late 1969 when he joined Leander as a cadet member and took part in the, fairly, cut throat business of gaining selection for a Leander crew. The system worked by allowing everybody from any club to turn up and administering a swift "goodbye" if you did not make the grade. Colin did well and ended up as stroke of the 1970 crew that won the Thames Cup. He was, then, a fresh faced 19 year old, distinguished by a manic grin and a gap between two front teeth. These features were seized upon by one of the coaches, Donald Legget, who re-christened Colin as "The Vampire", and so he was universally known from then on."

And this message from Colin's coach from 1970, Donald Legget:

"As I read through the details about the Vampire, whose death I heard about only a few days ago, I wondered if I would be credited with giving Colin his nickname.  He stroked the '70 Leander Cadet Crew, which won the Thames Cup for the 3rd year running (something LC sadly do not do these days) and was instrumental in defeating Leander in 1971. He knew Derek Drury's tactics and took the initiative and used them with his crew.  Over the years he probably upset many people - I fear I do the same - BUT I am proud to have been a friend of his through thick and thin and the rowing world is a poorer place for his absence."

This message from Iain Somerside (Immediate Past President of SARA):

"I have just read with sadness about Colin Ellis. I have very fond memories of him at Henley in 1974 and 75 and these will always stay with me. Rowing has lost a great character."

Another incident about which we reminded ourselves on the day of the memorial service:

A number of years ago at Stourport Regatta there were the usual large number of entries from Kingston Rowing Club in the committee boat coxed pairs event.  One of the Kingston crews, having lost its race, protested to the finish judges that the opposing crew were not eligible to compete in the "committee pairs" event.  This confused the assembled officials in the judges' tent until Colin explained that he was Chairman of Kingston Rowing Club, Richard Rowland was the club Treasurer, and the coxswain [yours truly] was club Secretary;  this meant that as Chairman, Treasurer & Secretary we were definitely a "committee pair", and Colin wasn't convinced that the opposition were equally qualified!  Sadly, the protest was dismissed, and the defeated crew had to adjourn to the bar.

Page produced 16 Dec 99, updated 20 Feb 2000.

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