11 February 2016
The U.S. rowing community has received sad news that one of the great American rowing Olympians, William ‘Bill’ Stowe passed away in his home on 8 February, at an age of 75. Stowe was born in 1940 in Oak Park, Illinois, and was raised in Bronxville, New York. When he attended Kent School in Connecticut, he took up rowing under the late Hart Perry. Coming to Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, in 1959, Stowe was made captain and was placed in the stroke seat in the freshman crew that was undefeated that year.
Todd Kennett, Spirit of ’57 Director of Rowing at Cornell and head coach, writes: ‘[In 1959] they were undefeated and won the IRA. At one point in the IRA they were going for the course record and were said to have been 6-7 lengths ahead of second place. Bill had great boat moving ability, but he had a little bit of a wild side that landed him in a bit of trouble which kept him from rowing his sophomore year. When he returned his junior year, Coach Sanford saw his racing brilliance as well and placed him in the stroke seat too. Bill would lead the varsity for the next two years from the stroke seat, placing second at the IRA his junior year, and winning the IRA his senior year.’
After graduating from Cornell, Stowe joined the U.S. Navy and was deployed to Vietnam, where he rowed at the Club Nautique in Saigon. Back from Vietnam as a lieutenant, Stowe was stationed in Philadelphia, where he joined Vesper Boat Club. According to an article, penned by Ed Moran on USRowing’s website, Stowe had been invited to Vesper by Jack Kelly, Jr., ‘Kell’, who was putting together an eight for the 1964 Olympic Trials. The Vesper oarsmen at the time were a tough crowd, but Stowe took the stroke seat and during their first outing gave them a run for their lives. Boyce Budd, who was in the boat for the trials, told Moran: ‘Bill stroked this group that he had never rowed with before as naturally as he had done it for a year and a half. And it was fast. We went across the line and Emory Clark was behind me and I turned around and looked at him and Clark said, “That was the roughest (blanking) row I’ve ever been through”.’
The rest is Olympic rowing history: the Vesper boat, with Stowe in the stroke seat, took the Olympic gold medal in the eights at the 1964 Games in Tokyo.
In 2005, Stowe published All Together: The Formidable Journey to the Gold with the 1964 Olympic Crew, his entertaining account of the 1964 rowing season.
After the Olympic row, Stowe turned to coaching and was Columbia University coach between 1967 and 1971, and then helped the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to start a rowing programme. For the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games, he worked as the ABC television commentator.
In 2011, Bill Stowe received the Jack Kelly Award, ‘which recognizes superior achievements in rowing, service to amateur athletics, and success in their chosen profession, thereby serving as an inspiration to American rowers.’
Glenn Merry, USRowing Chief Executive Officer, told Ed Moran, ‘Bill Stowe is a man I admire. He was a leader in rowing, a mythical figure from the stroke seat of the Great Eight, someone who truly embodied the best our sport is. His involvement at every facet, from Dad Vail to the NRF to USRowing, itself, reflected how deeply he lived in the sport. We have lost an important figure in rowing and he will be missed.’