An Olympic Champion and Gentleman of Rowing. William Arthur Stowe – 1940-2016
"Bill Stowe is one of the truly great competitors, coaches and leaders in our sport," said USRowing CEO Glenn Merry. "As a young college rower, I recall his image emblazoned on the USRowing safety video that we all watched before our first day on the water." Stowe has had a long and distinguished career in rowing, beginning with his introduction to the sport in 1955 at the Kent School. After his first taste of international rowing at the Henley Regatta in 1958, Stowe went on to Cornell University where he stroked and captained the 1959 freshman crew to an undefeated year. Cornell Director of Rowing and men's head coach, Todd Kennett said, "Upon entering Cornell, his presence was immediately known." He stroked the heavyweight freshman boat coached by Carl Ullrich in 1959 to an undefeated season and an IRA title. He capped a distinguished collegiate rowing career by winning the varsity eight at the 1962 IRA Championships. "It was not just his great ability of leading Cornell crews to win from the stroke seat," Kennett said. "But it was his character and charisma that distinguished him." While in the Navy, Stowe rowed for the Club Nautique in Saigon, Vietnam before joining Vesper Boat Club in 1964 to train for Olympic tryouts. But that changed the first time Stowe stroked the crew in a timed piece on the Schuylkill River.
Jack Kelly Jr., "Kel" as he was known to fellow Vesper members, was helping to pull the pieces of the crew together and had arranged for Stowe, a Navy Lieutenant, to be transferred to Philadelphia. Stowe was going to have his tryout in the eight, and in the stroke seat. The Vesper crew was not the welcoming sort. Stowe was not prepared for the likes of the Vesper crew, and they were not prepared for him. Stowe got that chance and the rest is history.
"When we finally got the eight together, it sort of instantly meshed," teammate Budd said. "I've never, ever experienced anything like it in rowing before. We only had five weeks together before the Olympic Trials."
"The first time we did 2,000 meters together, it was one of those terrific spring days in Philadelphia, where the water is still pretty cold and the sky is clear blue, and the water is moving a little too fast so you know you're going to get an unreliable time. Two things happened," fellow ’68 Olympic 8+ crew member Budd said. "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.' And I said, ‘Yes, and it was also the (blanking) fastest row that you’ve ever had.'" The iconic Sports Illustrated cover photo celebrates the ’68 gold medal 8+.
Long-time US-national team coach Ted Nash said, "The guys in that eight like Clark, Budd, Bill Knecht and Stowe were very skillful, well-seasoned rowers. Stowe’s classic Cornell/Conibear catch didn’t slide in (or) bang in. They tried to make a cleaner, more aggressive catch, with much more consideration for the front end to be clean and quiet. It was quite pretty. The 1964 Vesper eight used a steady recovery, which is a golden mean between the American decelerated and the Soviet/Ratzeburg (German) accelerated recoveries. Their blade work and body discipline was flawless as a result of (’64 Olympic 8+ coach) Rosenberg's meticulous coaching. Boat moving skills of the individual athletes had been honed by endless practice in small boats. You rarely saw them take to the water in an eight."
The victory of the Vesper eight in both the Olympic Trials and the gold medal in Tokyo, Japan in the 1964 Olympic Games is the subject of Stowe's book, ALL TOGETHER, written and published in 2005. This eight was the last crew from a single club to represent the nation. From then on, our national teams have been comprised of club combinations or camp selection crews.
In 1967, Stowe accepted the head coach position at Columbia University. He went on to introduce rowing to the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1971. In addition to a short stint as Sports Information Director, Stowe coached the Cadets in defeating Yale University and winning the National Championship Dad Vail Regatta the following year.
Several local oarsmen who rowed for Bill offered glimpses of his demeanor & mystique.
NRC friend and former NRC coach Mike Kennedy said, "My three team mates and I rowed for Bill Stowe in 1973. One very windy day while preparing for a session on the Thames River, we started to whine about the rough water and generally lousy conditions. Bill's comment was, 'Those aren't whitecaps, they're ducks.' Through a summer of double practices, part-time jobs and little food, that comment exemplified the humor and grit that Bill gave to us. His technical knowledge of the sport was unparalleled. But it was his unique and unforgettable drive and outlook that made us put the shell in the water every day. And sometimes we even won."
Head Coach US Junior National Team Development, Junior Men's National Team, Athletic Director at E Lyme HS and NRC annual meeting speaker Steve Hargis said, "I found this sport when I got to the academy. Stowe was a guy whose personality filled every room and every space. His passion for the sport was something that was contagious." Steve said, "Stowe taught his teams that rowing is a special sport due to the humility involved in the exchange of jerseys after a race. You hand someone the shirt that you just lost. That can sting. He taught us at that moment to say 'That was the best race I have ever rowed,' and to not give them another reason to try to best you. The key is that you act in a way that is honorable to the sport. Stowe was a really, really special man."
Stowe also coached the Litchfield Rowing Association to numerous youth national championships from 1968 through 1971. Stowe was the ABC television commentator for the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games. He served on the board of directors of the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen (NAAO), USRowing’s predecessor. He was chairman of the publicity committee, helped organize and narrated a rowing safety video that established standard safety procedures. That video is still viewed by rowing teams nationwide.
In October 2015, friend of 24 years, and wife Barbara christened a USCGA eight in his honor. Stowe is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame at Kent School, Cornell University, U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the National Rowing Hall of Fame. He served as the president of the National Rowing Foundation, where he is a trustee, and he is a director of Philadelphia’s annual National Championship, the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta.
Sources: USrowing.org, The Sport of Rowing by P Malloy, The New London Day & good oars.