19 April 2018
Tom Weil writes:
The best-seller status of Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat (BITB) has inspired countless readers and book groups to enjoy and share the extraordinary story of Joe Rantz and his University of Washington teammates, who won Olympic gold in the eights in Berlin in 1936. What may not have been foreseen as a follow-on impact of the widespread interest generated by the book is the doors it has opened to other aspects of the BITB story.
One of the core threads in the tapestry of the tale is the role of the Pocock family. BITB follows the journey of brothers George and Dick from England to Vancouver, and then Seattle, where the shells they built for the University of Washington crew eventually commanded a dominating position on the national stage for over half a century. Equally in demand as coaches at rowing schools until well after WWII were former University of Washington oarsmen, who learned their craft under the eyes of the Pococks. One of the pioneers of this diaspora was Ed Leader, who was lured from Seattle by Yale dollars, and who cemented the promise of the Seattle rowing culture by delivering Olympic gold two years into his new assignment. Leader had set as a condition of his relocation that one of the Pocock brothers would accompany him. With a young family to support, Dick Pocock chose to make the journey east.
Although Leader was to relinquish the Yale coaching reins after 20 years, Dick, who worked out of Yale’s Adee boathouse on New Haven harbor, served as Yale’s principal boat-builder and rigger over that period, and then as a boatman and coach for the intramural crews who rowed on the West River lagoon (and were known as Pocock’s Pokers) well into the early 1960s.
Dick Pocock settled and raised a family in Milford, Connecticut, and his son Jim remained in the area, where he raised his sons Jim Jr. and Jeff, who were able to spend significant time with their grandfather Dick and his brother George, who visited frequently from Seattle. With the publication of BITB came the opportunity to share with the public much of the Pocock family history that had not been included in the book. The younger Jim Pocock found that there was an eager audience for this material, and began giving illustrated lectures; this week at the Woodbridge Connecticut town library was his 48th appearance.
On the relatively rare occasions that someone talks on any aspect of rowing history, it is not uncommon for the speaker to be a former rower of some special renown, such as an Olympic medalist. Rowing historians are a scarcer breed of lecturer, and even rarer are members of distinguished rowing families, but the rarest of all speakers are those who are truly eloquent and entertaining, and Jim Pocock is one of these.
Pocock’s talk, titled “The Boys in the Boat – The Rest of the Story”, stuffed with telling images and film clips, and delivered to a packed room in the Woodbridge library, included some fascinating details regarding the hard scrabble early years of Pocock family life, the feats of women’s rowing pioneer Lucy Pocock, and the early years of Boeing (with some rare photographs). Among the items he brought for display were his grandfather’s 1910 Doggett’s badge and his 1924 Olympics participant’s button. Pocock (whose brother Jeff also attended) answered questions from the audience afterwards, and was then swarmed by others who wanted a word with him.
For anyone interested in “the rest of the story”, this is a delightful view of rowing history brought alive by a grandson/grand-nephew that should not be missed.
To contact Jim Pocock, Jr., for a talk, please e-mail him at:
jim – at – elevatenewengland – dot – org