“My Mummy’s a vampire!” said a little boy proudly to spectators on the bank of the Caledonian Canal one autumn about 4 years ago. “She’s a vampire at the finish!” Lesley started her career as a “vampire” in 1992 along with myself under the tutelage of Peter Morrison, Jim McGhie and Doc George. Six years later we climbed the next rung of the ladder, aided by Peter, again, Mike Haggerty and Jim MacRitchie to pass the Multi- lane Umpires’ Exam, thus opening up the opportunities of officiating at some more prestigious regattas such as the National Championships and Henley Women’s Regatta. At this stage our umpiring careers parted, as Lesley went on to gain much more umpiring experience. eventually leading to her being put forward to train as a FISA Umpire. She worked very hard at this, with her constant reading companion for many months being the FISA Rule book. She travelled internationally in her quest to become a FISA umpire and successfully passed her exams in Belgrade at the World U23 Regatta last year. She was looking forward to officiating at the Coupe de la Jeunesse Regatta in Ravenna , Italy this year, but sadly due to her illness and having taken doctor’s advice she was unable to do so. However she was determined to wear her FISA Umpire’s uniform at the Home International Regatta staged this year in Nottingham and refused to let the state of her health overcome this.
Lesley first came to rowing about 15 years ago. At University she had been an excellent canoeist and had won a Bronze Medal at the British Universities Championships. It was at a party that she met with some rowers who encouraged her to come along and try her hand at their version of water sport.
She did so and was soon hooked! Her natural upper body strength and water sense enabled her to progress quickly and before her first year was up she was travelling to London to compete in the St Andrew BC’s women’s eight at the Tideway. This became an annual pilgrimage. She went to her first F1SA World Masters at Cologne in 1992 and at Vienna , the following year, won her first medal along with myself, Mandy Towrie and Rebecca George in the Women’s A 4+. As well as sweeping, Lesley had learned to scull, and one of the more memorable moments in Vienna was when the quad suddenly lost all its rhythm and timing. As steersperson I missed the spectacle on the bank which had caught the rest of the crews’ eyes – a naturist colony!
Lesley was pretty good at languages and was able to tell the taxi driver exactly what she thought of him in German, when he lost his way between the rowing course and campsite.
The win in Vienna was the start of an excellent 12 months – we won the Veteran pennant in the Women’s Head of the River Race in 1994 and followed that up by winning Veteran B Coxed Fours at the first Veteran Henley Regatta. Here we joined forces with two sisters from Prague whom we had met at previous World Regattas, and we flew! We rowed with Zdena and Olina again in a multi-national eight at the Adelaide World Masters when we also had two Australians and an Austrian to make up numbers – it was a winning crew too! After Henley Vets it was on to Groningen where Lesley organised the teeshirts which became famous for a spelling mistake, which pronounced us as the Scottish “bondage” team! Here we collected a truly remarkable 3 medals – including our first ever in the double (which we trained in most frequently).
Lesley, despite having a high powered job in Public Finance, became a member of the St Andrew BC Committee and took over as Secretary from me, an office she held for at least 3 years. I became Captain for one year and together with Yvonne Davenport who was Treasurer we had lots of full running the Club – often from the pub after training. One Friday evening she phoned me to say she wouldn’t be training that weekend. When quizzed she admitted she had just married Jim and was going away for the weekend! They had been together for quite a while, but we were nevertheless taken by surprise.
We continued having our annual trips to the World Masters in between producing babies. We both missed 1996 for that reason, but did travel to Adelaide with respective families in 1997. I think over the years Lesley attended 12 regattas and her medal tally was 18 – all of which I shared with her.
Our friendship was not restricted to rowing activities, we also had some cycling adventures including one which involved a very long climb up the Applecross pass in North West Scotland (the highest road pass in Britain I believe). We made it to the top and after refreshing ourselves with a beer at the pub on the other side continued our 60 mile trip along Loch Torridon playing leap frog with some serious cyclists. At one point we stopped for a Mars bar and were asked by one of our road companions which cycling club we belonged to. When we answered that we didn’t, but were rowers, he said “That explains it then..!”
In 1996 Lesley, despite being very close to giving birth to her son Ewan, organised the Social Events for the World Championships. These were voted a great success. She was to have been in charge of the Information Department for next year’s FISA World Masters and attended some of the early planning meetings with some very useful input.
In latter years as our rowing careers went different paths, partly due to my relocation to the West, Lesley strengthened a great number of St Andrew crews and found a new rowing partner in Inverness ‘s Hazel Smith. They enjoyed a number of training sessions both in the central belt and in Inverness . We would set together again for the World Masters in various combinations, many of them successful. One of Lesley’s favourite races was the one we had in Seville with Hazel, Mandy and me, coxed by Arnie MacDonald. We had not been one of the crews considered a threat by some of our opposition and thoroughly upset them by taking an early lead to which we grimly hung on!
There were many parts to Lesley’s life other than rowing. Sadly her marriage to Jim broke up in 2000 but they both took a very active part in sharing the care of Ewan. Her career as a financial consultant took up a lot of her time and energy and she was clearly very highly thought of. Last year Lesley took a worthwhile 6 month break from employment and was able to spend more time with Ewan and pursuing her other interests. One of these was her allotment Lesley would frequently arrive bearing armfuls of rocket, carrots, soft fruit, all gown organically. She was a walking horticultural dictionary and what she didn’t know about killing slugs humanely wasn’t worth knowing! Another of her hobbies was her motor bike – she would beat the traffic with this, though never quite got the hang of carrying her blades on it (but an excellent topic of conversation to have when your launch driver at Henley Women’s happens to be one Matthew Pinsent who has a similar passion). She enjoyed cycling -she and Ewan would pedal for miles on the tandem, often in the company of her brother Derek and family. They also went on holiday together, usually to France , complete with bikes so that they could visit various local vineyards and sample the wares. Lesley was a connoisseur of fine wine and champagne and knuckles when sculling despite their length.
She had incredible energy and would get up early in the morning for training sessions with her personal trainer, arriving home again to phone friends about something important, often before they were even out of bed! What she could fit in a day, never ceased to amaze me! Another thing that amazed me about Lesley were her finger nails. They were always perfectly manicured and painted (once much to the disapproval of an air steward who told her off for using a flammable liquid in flight!), but she never seemed to gouge her knuckles when sculling despite their length.
Lesley showed incredible courage when she learned earlier this year that she was ill. She must have known what lay ahead, but decided to keep her cards very close to her chest, sharing it only with the very closest members of her family. She had rowed both divisions of the Inverness Head with Hazel two weeks before her diagnosis and enjoyed the weekend up north staying with Mandy and Tom, as usual. However what was not usual, was her not being able to drink all her gin and tonic!
She underwent rigorous chemotherapy and quietly put her affairs in order. On her good weeks she did as much as she could – umpiring both locally and at the National Schools as well as doing things with Ewan. She traveled to Henley Royal Regatta and very much enjoyed that – we had a very pleasant evening together at The Leander Club, of which she was proud to be a member following her becoming a FISA Umpire. That was the last time I saw her.
Her last treatment was particularly tough but she was determined to keep her arranged weekend with Ewan at Mandy and Tom’s, and almost had to beg the hospital staff to discharge her. She enjoyed her weekend up north, despite being very uncomfortable, and had quality time with her son. On returning she went almost straight down to Nottingham to officiate at the Home International as a FISA Umpire. She was taken from the train home by ambulance straight to hospital and after having had a good chat with Ewan, slipped into a coma. She died peacefully with her brother Derek at her side.
Lesley was always a great organiser – she would have our trips abroad all sorted months in advance – and it was no great surprise to hear that she had organised her own funeral! She had asked Hazel to speak, which she did in fine style, and had chosen a humanist to conduct the service. She had selected some of her favourite music but I must say that at the time it was a bit hard to “Always look on the bright side of life” as we left the chapel! Many people attended from her varied walks of life to pay tribute and say good bye to a very special person and friend.