Vale - Robert Williams

Jun 20, 2017

Rowing NSW is saddened to learn of the passing of Robert Williams who died on 12 June 2017.  The funeral was held on Monday 19 June at Ryhope (near Toronto).  There was a large number of people at the funeral with former rowers who have been connected with Manning River, Hunter (now Lake Macquarie) and Newcastle, rowing clubs. 

Below is an extract from the history of Manning River Rowing Club, Fifty Years Through the Work (2007)

Robert (Wong) Williams

Robert Williams was born on 7 January 1945 to parents Jack an electroplater and amateur builder of dirt track motor cycles and Connie.

Robert joined the Manning River Rowing Club as a junior in 1960 when still at Taree High School and was a member until 1969 when he moved to Sydney and joined Drummoyne Rowing Club.

In 1960 he was living with his parents and sister Ruth in Macquarie Street about 100 metres from the then rowing clubhouse at the foot of Macquarie Street.

Robert or Wong as he was known, rowed in junior crews at Lismore and Grafton at the Easter regattas and also at the All Schools Head of the Northern Rivers Regattas at Grafton.  At Taree High School he was also adept at athletics being Under 15 School Athletics Champion in 1960.  

On leaving Taree High School he was apprenticed as an optical dispenser to Optician Charlie Withers at Webster Jack and McDonald, Opticians in Victoria Street Taree.  The business location in the middle of the Taree shopping center meant that the back room where Robert worked became an almost de-facto rowing club office where he organized crews, made regatta entries and dreamt up some outrageous ideas for fundraising such as a midnight dance, a rowathon and a 200 Club.  

Robert was elected as Club Captain in 1961, a position he held for three years, although regardless of the position held, he was always chasing up new members, and forever putting them into crews.

Of the Office Bearers elected in 1961, it was very much a junior club with the Secretary, Treasurer and Club Captain all being under 18 years of age.  President George Parvin provided a degree of maturity to the Club.

Robert was a member of the Lightweight Four which won the Northern Rivers Championships at Brushgrove in 1967 and again in 1968.

Following the demolition of the old clubhouse at the foot of Macquarie Street in 1967, the Club operated from a temporary shelter in Robert and his wife Robyn’s house in River Street just upstream from and across the road from the existing clubhouse.

In April 1969 Robert Williams resigned as Sports Secretary of the Club due to his impending move to Sydney and was awarded Life Membership of the Club, the second member to achieve the honour.  

In 1989 the Club purchased a second hand eight from Scots College which was named the Robert Williams.

Robert and wife Robyn and family moved to Sydney in 1969 where he joined Drummoyne Rowing Club.  His work as a representative in the optical business left little time for rowing however in 1980 he moved to Warners Bay on Lake Macquarie to establish his own retail optical business.

He was soon making moves to get rowing established in the Newcastle area.  He borrowed two fours from his old Club Manning River which were at that time languishing at Singleton and started getting some schoolboys including his son Brad and some mates from Warners Bay High School into rowing.  Warners Bay High, coached by Robert made their first appearance in a regatta at the Manning River Spring Regatta in October 1981.

The attempts at getting rowing started on Lake Macquarie paid off with the establishment of the Hunter Rowing Club.  At that time there were a number of persons from different locations interested in rowing and after much debate the name Hunter was chosen for the new club to indicate its role as the club for the whole region.  The Club was officially incorporated in 1988.

Much work was put into making the boats on loan from Manning rowable and storage was secured in part of the Speers Point Sailing Club prior to Hunter establishing their own clubhouse at Marmong Point (Cockle Bay) across the lake from Speers Point.

One of the borrowed boats from Manning was the original four the Manning Royal and President Allan Sawyer had extracted a promise from Robert that when they were finished with it, the bow was to be returned to Manning River.  The promise was ultimately kept with the restored bow mounted above the bar in the Manning River clubhouse.

Robert Williams served as Vice President of the Central Districts Rowing Association in 1988 and 1989 and was President from 1990 to 1994.

Robert was also a qualified Boat Race Official and worked as such at regattas, particularly in the Newcastle area.  He moved to Carrington in early 2005 and became a social member of Newcastle Rowing Club.

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