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Maidenhead Rowing Club stalwart and 'devoted family man' dies aged 89

‘A loyal and most respected member’ of Maidenhead Rowing Club (MRC) for more than 70 years has died aged 89.

Derek Cook, who was also president at MRC from 2003 to 2008, formed a youth squad which went on to establish the club’s reputation for competitive rowing.

He was born in 1931 in High Street, Maidenhead, to his parents Ada and Harold and grew up with his siblings, Harry, Ann, Connie, Dee and Peter.

Derek’s daughters Janine Clark and Vivien Webb say that despite their father’s ‘humble beginnings’, he had been ‘a bright boy’ and passed the exam for Maidenhead County Boys’ School, now Desborough College.

Two years before finishing school he started rowing and upon leaving in 1947 he joined Maidenhead Rowing Club, which his daughters say, ‘sparked his passion for the sport’.

He took up sculling, which until recently he continued to do several times a week on the Thames, and Janine and Vivien say that he ‘loved it’.

“The club and the river at Maidenhead became a large and very important part of his life,” they said in a tribute.

In the late 1950s Derek started his own printing business, Art Print, based in St Peter’s Road, Maidenhead.

Janine and Vivien said: “His busy business life ran in parallel with his equally busy rowing life.”

There was also his personal life – in 1957 Derek married Jill in Colnbrook.

The couple welcomed daughter Vivien in 1958, Alastair in 1962, and Janine in 1975. The family lived in various homes in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire before settling in Burnham.

Janine and Vivien describe their father as modest, ‘very generous’ and a ‘devoted family man’.

President of MRC, Billy Brooks, 63, used to be in the club's youth squad, which Derek established in 1971 after approaching local schools.

“Those youths went on the become the backbone of the 1980s senior squad establishing the Maidenhead Rowing Club’s reputation for competitive rowing,” Billy said.

He describes Derek as a mentor who ‘became a very good friend’.

“Derek was a key member of the team that led a transformation at the club with a drive to make it the best it could be,” Billy added.

“He was an inspirational leader who applied his ‘can do’ spirit in a constant drive to improve Maidenhead Rowing Club in organisation, rowing and training facilities and premises.”

Successes Derek had as a coach at the club included winning the Henley Royal Regatta (HRR) Queen Mother Cup Composite in 1984 and the HRR Britannia Cup in 1985.

Billy said the event attracts top crews from around the world and that club wins are ‘very difficult to achieve due to the very high standard of competition’.

Previously the club recorded its first HRR win in 1924, another in 1939 and Bert Bushnell’s victory in the Olympic Double Sculls at Henley in 1948.

The Advertiser reported on the win of the Britannia Cup on July 12, 1985.

It read: “The crew was coached by Derek Cook who has masterminded many Maidenhead wins in recent years.”

Following the 1985 success, Derek was one of the four founder members who took on the task of seeking out a new site for the MRC and raising funds to build a new improved boat house.

Billy said: “Derek’s drive and tenacity to identify a new Club House location and raise the funds helped bring this vision to life and his energy rubbed off on everyone involved.”

Almost ten years after the project began the new club house on the South Bucks side of the river in River Road, Taplow, opened in 1998, which Billy said is ‘the result of Derek’s hard work’.

“Derek is a most significant part of the history of Maidenhead Rowing Club,” he added.

Photo credit: Caroline Steel

“He will be remembered for his unflinching friendship, energy and integrity and for his passion to helping Maidenhead Rowing Club achieve so much during his time as a loyal and most respected member.”

Derek died on Sunday, August 30. Janine and Vivien said their father was adored by his wife, his children, four grand-children and great-grandchild.

“From humble beginnings Derek built his life into a rich and fruitful life and has left a lasting impression on the world,” they added.

“The legacy that he leaves will be of pushing Maidenhead Rowing Club to be the best it possibly can be.”

There will be a small, private family funeral for Derek held at the end of the month and, it is hoped, a memorial and celebration of his life next year.

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