David Goodes – A Coach who made Boats go Fast

20 January 2018

David Goodes at Henley Royal Regatta, 1967.

A public school master of unusual devotion and a much respected rowing coach, David Goodes, died on 17 January, at the age of 92, Michael Dover writes.

David Goodes rowed for Brasenose College, Oxford and Thames RC before being spotted in 1951 by the legendary headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury Dr FJ Shirley, as a potential recruit for his coaching staff, ‘with a bit of English on the side’. Shirley had ambitions for his school to row in eights, despite the local river being completely unsuitable – the Kentish Stour is tidal, sinuous, narrow, weed-choked, and shallow, and winds through windswept marshes subject to extremes of weather, a far cry from the leafy expanses of the Thames or the Avon. The School Boat Club had frequented the river since the mid-19th century for private matches where the ability to take a sharp corner was a winning factor.

The previous head coach had taken his school fours as far as a coach could go, winning the Public Schools’ Fours at Marlow Regatta by a large margin and Shirley was determined that King’s Canterbury should be a ‘rowing school.’ The head coach resigned, the task was impossible, and Shirley promoted Goodes to chief coach, ‘I want you to take it on old man, and we are going to Henley next year!’

David set to, rented an old oak-beamed boat shed from the local river authority, negotiated rights of way from the riparian landowners, erected planked bridges across the drainage ditches for the coaches’ bicycles, and in 1952 the first eight to row on the Stour was launched. For the next 21 years, David set an incredibly high standard of rowing despite the desperate handicap of his rowing water and The King’s School, Canterbury did indeed become a ‘Rowing School’.

In his 21 years in charge, the school 1st VIII won the Schools’ Head of the River Race three times – and for 10 of those years was in the top five – and his crews fought three Henley finals and four semi-finals. The club expanded as did the coaching staff, and after old boy Somerset Maugham donated the money for a large eights boathouse at Pluck’s Gutter, some 11 miles from the School, a cadre of coaches began work on the lower boats, so successfully that in 1964 the top three eights each went head of the river in their class. David’s remarkable achievements were quickly recognized by his fellow schools’ coaches and he was duly elected to Leander Club. Nationally, he was a founder member of the Amateur Rowing Association’s Council for Youth Rowing, which was responsible for the first British youth teams to go abroad, and served as its treasurer.

Despite his success on the water, David’s first love was music. He played viola in the School Orchestra, performing in 45 consecutive ‘King’s Weeks’ – a week-long celebration of the performing arts held at the end of the summer term – and conducted the Chamber Orchestra. He was later conductor of the Canterbury (city) Orchestra for many years. He had a dry wit, delighted in excruciating puns, and was much loved and respected by his generations of pupils.

David Goodes, born 15 April 1925, died 17 January 2018.

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