Bert Harold Thomas Bushnell, born 3 September 1921, was a famous British oarsman who won the Wingfield Sculls in 1947 and became the Olympic champion in the double sculls in Henley in 1948 together with Richard ‘Dickie’ Burnell. Bert Bushnell died on 9 January 2010. At his funeral on 27 January the following Tribute was read.
Bert Bushnell, known to everyone who knew him, including his daughters and grand-daughters, simply as “Bert”, lived nearly all his life near the river Thames. He was a man of passions and the three greatest of his life were sport, the river and his family.
Sport dominated his life, not only because he won an Olympic gold medal in the double sculls in 1948 here in Henley, but simply because he loved just about anything to do with sport. While he never excelled academically at school, he excelled in anything sporting. He loved athletics and football and of course as a boy of the river – his family had lived and worked on the Thames for generations – he was destined to make his mark in some sport involving boats and water. But after the Olympics he abandoned sculling and was to turn his talents to a variety of other sports, all of which he embraced with passion. Golf was to be the one to which he probably devoted most time and energy over the next few decades. He would often get up at five in the morning to go to the driving range at first light or to go to a secret spot halfway round the golf course so he could put in a few holes before work. To the bemusement of friends and neighbours (and, one might add, the despair of the gardener) he constructed an authentic golf bunker on his back lawn so he could perfect his bunker shots. His wife was a very tolerant woman. The hall carpet in the family home became a substitute putting green, where birdie and eagle winning putts would be practised and perfected while family life continued around him. And it paid off. For Bert won an impressive array of trophies in tournaments on courses all over the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond. Then there was a time when ballroom dancing became a passion, and the family home would resound to the strains of Pepe Jaramillo, Master of the Maracas, and his Latin American band, as he cha-cha-ed round and round the kitchen, or samba-ed his way across the dining room with his wife Margaret.
He married his wife Margaret in September 1948, just after his Olympic win, and spent the first few years of his married life on a Thames sailing barge, moored up outside the boathouse in Maidenhead that was to become the focus of his life for several decades. Later he moved to a house across the road, which became as well as a family home, an extension of his boating business, the dining room doubling up as a booking office and the rear sitting room as a storeroom for holiday cruiser equipment of all sorts from crockery to cushions and chandlery – a magnificent Aladdin’s cave for his daughters to show off to their friends. For it should be mentioned that Bert, very much a man’s man, had three daughters and no sons and six grand-daughters and no grand-sons. It appeared that the Maidenhead Bushnell branch just didn’t “do” boys.
Living next to the river Bert was determined his daughters would be water babies and to make sure they were safe near water he threw each one into the centre of the river when they were still very small and made them swim to the bank, before giving them a dinghy and a pair of oars to ensure the river and boating would become as much a part of their lives as it had been of his.
Later, Bert’s passion became gardening, the back garden became a mini market garden complete with greenhouse laden with an impressive array of tomatoes, cucumbers and whatever Mediterranean vegetables he could find seeds for, the lettuces grew in neat rows all over what had once been the lawn – and the golf bunker was converted in to a bed for growing mushrooms. This newfound interest in gardening coincided with a new passion for gastronomy, consisting mainly of tabletop cookery on a professional silver burner, where flambéing to rival a north sea oil rig flame resulted in a range of impressive seafood dishes or crepes suzettes, which would send his guests over the breathalyzer limit after one mouthful. His ice creams were legendary. His signature “rum and raisin” packed quite a punch, as guests retiring semi-conscious to the sitting room after a Bert dinner would attest. If they could remember it, that is.
Bert was a very social man. He loved entertaining and he was a generous host. His drinks cabinet was always open to anyone who cared to drop round for a chat and a drink… or two … or three… and he would invite anyone and everyone out for lunch or dinner to his favourite restaurants of the moment. It was always “Open House” at Bert’s house, and his friends in the Thames Valley will be the poorer for the loss of such a warm and welcoming host – as, no doubt will be the local restaurants he loved so much.
I would like to thank Bert Bushnell’s three daughters, Jacqueline Page, Sue Bushnell, and Pat Pueschel, for sending me the Tribute and the photographs, and allowing me to publish them on my blog.