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Hilary 2016: Derek Thurgood

UCBC recently received the sad news of the passing of Derek Thurgood, coach of the Univ women’s first eight in the late eighties and early nineties. Derek was held in very high regard by those who knew him and his is a great loss for the rowing world.

He learned to row in the East End and was a member of Twickenham RC for many years, later joining Upper Thames and also being elected a member of the Leander Club. From the early seventies to the mid-eighties he was involved with the coaching of the Oxford Blues crews – both men and women – and enjoyed a long run of victories in the Boat Races, with the OUBC Blue Boat breaking the course record in 1974 when Derek helped to coach Isis.

After coaching a couple of ex-OUWBC women as part of the national squad setup, he joined Univ in the summer of 1988. This was due in part to W1 member Tracey Bennett, who had learned to row at Upper Thames. At first slightly intimidated by his background, the crew came to see that Derek had a great understanding of how to work with people of a variety of abilities, and they developed a genuine affection for him which meant they were keen to earn his praise – especially after one piece, which had not gone so well, was described as “bone idle”! The crew vowed that he would never have cause to say that to them again. He never did, and they went on to win blades in Eights that first year.

Later that summer, Derek saw the Univ women reach the final of Henley Women’s Regatta and, over the coming years, coached them into division 1 of Eights, reaching 3rd place in 1992 (which remains to this day the highest that Univ W1 has ever reached). In an email sent in 1989 when he could not attend the Eights Dinner, he said "You have all been most generous in your praise of my coaching but believe me when I tell you that you should not overstate its value.  Coaches can teach, encourage, correct, motivate and drive - but they can't win races.  You did that.  So remember this when you are coached by others."

The crew, nevertheless, were thankful to Derek for giving them the belief and confidence that they could win, for building on their experience and propelling them to their success. A flurry of Blues rowers emerged from Univ over the years he was here, and this is no coincidence. He was fun, full of stories and able to make anyone he came across feel special – and, I am told, to wreck any bike that was leant to him to ride along the towpath. He died peacefully in the early hours of October 11th 2015.

Amy Hughes
Vice President
With thanks to David Hunter and John Ewans for sharing their memories of Derek.

Derek Thurgood
1988 W1's Crew.

Posted on Apr 20, 2016

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