Bill Stowe – American Olympic Rowing Champion Dies

The Vesper BC's 1964 Olympic crew. Photo: USRowing.
Bill Stowe (second from left) and the Vesper BC’s 1964 Olympic crew. Photo: USRowing.

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.

All Together - coverIn 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.’

Bill Stowe. Photo: Nashville Jrs Rowing on Twitter.
Bill Stowe. Photo: Nashville Jrs Rowing on Twitter.

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.’

2 comments

  1. Thanks for covering Bill’s passing. He was a giant at Vesper in the mid 60’s. Bill was assumed to sit at stroke seat of every top Vesper entry. There are many, many Stowe stories due in part to his living in the captain’s apartment and interacting with the younger guys. As an aside, Bill enjoyed a beer or two. He was a huge personality and good guy.

    Bob Madden. 603-440-3378. Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Bill Stowe was a valued informant on rowing in Vietnam for my book The Story of World Rowing (1992). His discovery of C N Saigon is described in the extract below:

    In the sixties the rowing club in Saigon was a gourmet’s paradise remembered by reporters covering the Vietnam war and by Bill Stowe, who arrived in the South Vietnamese capital in 1963 as an ensign in the US Navy to run the American officers’ club. On his first evening he was in the rooftop bar of a hotel in the centre of the city when he saw a rowing shell gliding up the river at sunset. He followed it, and became the only occidental to row at the club during his year’s tour of duty.

    ‘I would go down at lunchtime and for about 70 cents be served a tray of ‘oars’ d’oeuvres and a litre of Larou beer on the sun deck, then cold lobster tail and fresh mayonnaise, then steak and fruit. It served the best food in Vietnam and was largely a dining club.’

    Stowe once entertained the entire rowing membership to dinner at the officers’ club for $100. CN Saigon had ‘lapstrake bateau, French built, fours, pairs, and singles, and you could row 6 or 7 miles up river to the club’s weekend barbecue place where there was water skiing and such like.’

    Stowe spoke only English and was in a crew who included an alcoholic French lady cox and a Pakistani. They had a Vietamese coach called Jo Hi who instructed in Vietnamese, after which the bow man translated into French, and somebody else into English.

    Stowe found rowing as it should be in Saigon, ‘coolies put the boats in and out of the water and scrubbed them down. You had to wear whites to practise.’

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