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Cygnet Rowing Club
on the Tideway since 1890
CSSC Sports and Leisure

Phil Brown

10th September 2023

Philip Brown

1946 – 2023

Not everybody who rows at Cygnet seeks copious silverware at high profile regattas; some are quite happy to beaver away quietly in the background, contributing to the greater good. One such member was Philip (‘Phil’) Brown, a club vice president, who passed away quite unexpectedly in his sleep on Monday, 30th August. He was 77.

Phil joined Cygnet in the mid-1970s. He had rowed at his Cambridge college and was keen to continue wielding a blade on a recreational basis. Cygnet amply fulfilled this aspiration. The club boasted a large pool of casual oarsmen in the 1970s and 80s, ably organised by Chris Gates who welcomed Phil as a co-convenor of this sometimes disparate squad. From there, it was but a short step to assisting (and ultimately organising) the London Business Houses Head, a head race for up to thirty likeminded business houses rowing clubs.

Phil was one of life’s boffins. Fresh out of university, he quickly found his niche in the Ministry of Defence. Richard Kemball-Cook, a contemporary rower and MoD employee recalls: “he (Phil) was more front line than me: in the late 1970s I remember him going on about these little toy planes that were to be the future of warfare. How right he was!

Shaping the future of warfare may have been his day job, but attending to the minutiae of club business consumed much of his leisure hours. He rowed in various gentlemen’s Vllls (see below at bow in a Business Houses Head race), sat on various committees, served as club secretary and bungalow secretary, often appeared at regattas as a supporter (with his faithful caravan in tow) and cajoled family members into producing endless felt pennants for Tideway events. Chris Gates had trained Phil well and they would both become staunch supporters of St Neots regatta, always a firm Cygnet favourite.

A great believer in the ethos of civil service rowing, Phil and his long-term companion Rubina Curtis, president of BBLRC, regularly attended annual conferences of the Civil Service Sports Council. Many a time, unsuspecting CSSC officials were caught off guard by searching questions from the floor as Phil and Rubina grilled them on policy towards rowing, rarely missing an opportunity to remind them of the proud history of the Civil Service Rowing Association.

Earlier this year, he accepted an invitation to attend a regional AGM of the CSSC. As he reported back, it was clearly a disappointing experience: “Most of the attendees could be described as ‘mature’ and few looked ‘athletic’. It was a meeting of friends who made no attempt to welcome me, or even talk to me”. Never one to mince his words, he concluded “if this is typical of CSSC operations around the country, the interest in team sports is minimal”.

Still, lest anybody thought Phil was a blinkered bureaucrat, he was a great steam train enthusiast, regularly volunteering with one of the local heritage lines. Gadgets fascinated Phil and he often arrived at regattas with the latest cameras, not to mention smart cars. An IT whizz, Phil kept everything on his computer and had built up a large digital library of civil service crews, a valuable supplement to both club’s archives.

For many of us, our last encounter with Phil will have been at Old Blades on the Friday of Henley Royal Regatta, when he and Rubina could be seen ‘working the room (or perhaps the garden on this occasion)’. A steadfast companion of Rubina’s, he never failed to enquire about members’ health and wellbeing and always had the club’s best interests at heart.

Phil’s funeral will be held on19th October at 12.30pm at St Peter's Church, Church Lane, Wrestlingworth, Sandy SG19 2EU, a few miles east of his beloved Biggleswade on the B1042. 

Paul Rawkins, September 2023


Author: Neil Pickford


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