John Buchan 1931-2020

John Buchan 3

An Outstanding Supporter of Rowing in Peterborough and Nationally

John Buchan committed much of his life to the sport of rowing as a rower, coach, umpire and administrator. He made a huge impact both at Peterborough City Rowing Club and nationally through his work with the Amateur Rowing Association (now British Rowing). John is greatly missed by many friends in the rowing world.

John was born in Peterculter, just outside Aberdeen, but lived most of his life in the Peterborough area. He learnt to row at Aberdeen University in the early 1950’s and after graduating in mechanical engineering he did his 2 years of national service with R.E.M.E. at Stirling where he continued with some rowing. On finishing national service he took a job as a graduate trainee research engineer at Perkins Engines in Peterborough in 1956. In the early 1960’s he was head-hunted to become a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Peterborough Technical College and he remained so for the rest of his working life and was head of department for many years.

John joined Peterborough City Rowing Club which was small at the time having been founded only in 1948. He quickly became part of the club’s best crews. He won several events in the late 1950’s including maiden fours at Nottingham Regatta in 1957. He raced in the Tideway Head several times. By 1960 he was Vice-Captain and in 1961 served as Captain for the first time. 1961 was a big year for the club as it moved into its first purpose-built boathouse on the River Embankment. At this time John helped RAF Wittering establish its own rowing club and had close links with RAF rowing for most of his life but in particular helping the RAF RC with the affiliation of a central base and with its annual regatta.  John served a second term as Captain in 1966 and by this time was a regular on the club committee. He remained on the club committee in one capacity or another for most of the rest of his life.

In the early 1960’s John switched his attention to coaching and became less active as a rower. By this time the club was becoming better established with an expanding membership. He helped with the development of young talent and focussed mainly on coaching sculling technique. He helped Peter Zeun who went on to become the GB lightweight single sculler in the early 1970’s and then world champion as part of the GB lightweight 8 in 1978 and 1980. He also coached Mick Bates who represented England in the Home Countries International winning gold in 1971. In the late 1970’s John worked with Joan Heath helping her win gold, silver and bronze medals at the National Championships in singles, doubles and quads over a 3 year period. In 1981 he coached Jo Murray and Deirdre Cousins to gold in junior doubles at the Nationals. John had a no-nonsense style which undoubtedly brought the best out in his pupils and he also had great technical knowledge at a time when it was not widely understood how a boat should be set up for racing.

John’s involvement with the wider aspects of the sport started in 1978 when he took over as Divisional Representative for Bedford, Huntingdon and Peterborough. He remained in this role for 16 years until 1994. After just 2 years of attendance at A.R.A. meetings John was a member of both the Technical and Course sub-committees. In 1985 he was made Chairman of the Course Committee and in 1988 this became the National Development Committee, which had the very important role of developing the sport all over the country. He remained Chairman until 2004 and during this time played a key part in the expansion of the sport. During this period he oversaw the establishment of regional offices with professional staff. He was also a member of the Competition Committee during the 1990’s and early 2000’s and was on the A.R.A. Executive for 18 years from 1985 to 2003. The fact that John was passionate about the expansion of the sport, with clear views, and was an articulate speaker meant that he had great value in his various roles. He was also capable of being very persistent, if required, to see things through to a satisfactory conclusion.

At the same time as undertaking this work John became a multi-lane umpire in 1981 serving until retirement when he reached the age of 70. He also became a Gold Level coach. His interest in coaching in the 1980’s and 1990’s became more focussed on coach education and he became a tutor and assessor for Instructors Award candidates. He was a keen advocate for coaching qualifications and encouraged many rowers to take such courses.

He was a Trustee of the Rowing Foundation for 18 years from 1995 until 2013. The Foundation awards grants to help rowing for young people and the disabled. John was a proactive trustee encouraging lower profile clubs to apply for grants.

Despite his commitments at the Amateur Rowing Association John remained very active at his home club. He was of course a coach and umpire but he played a big role in the negotiations and design work for the rowing lake construction in Peterborough during 1981-1983. His technical knowledge and experience of Home Pierrepont and other lakes was extremely valuable at this time. Later when the club needed to enlarge its facilities to cope with an expanding membership he worked closely with the club treasurer, Paul Child, to secure a lottery grant of some £152,000  which facilitated an enlarged boathouse, gym and changing rooms. Off the river he regularly attended club events but was particularly famed for his role in the annual Burns Night party. For many years he addressed the haggis in the traditional manner, proudly wearing his Buchan tartan, sometimes having to be prompted by his first wife, Irene, when he forgot some part of the verse!

In recent years age took its toll on John and he fought bravely against ill health. However he insisted on carrying on regardless attending the club regularly and particularly its regattas. He is survived by his second wife, Jean, and his stepchildren and step-grandchildren.

John Buchan’s great contribution to the sport was recognised during his lifetime with the award of the Amateur Rowing Association Medal of Honour in 2001 and Presidency and Life Membership of Peterborough City Rowing Club. Rowing has lost a great enthusiast and servant.

The funeral will take place on 31st January at 12.00 Noon at Peterborough Crematorium.

John Canton


Peterborough City Rowing Club