North Shore Rowing Club

Sydney, Australia

Obituary - Spencer Grace, OAM

The last time Spencer Grace rowed on his beloved Lane Cove River was just three weeks before his death - at the age of 92. A businessman and sportsman, Grace represented Australia at the 1948 London Olympics. His partner then was Ted Bromley of Palm Beach and the duo, dubbed "the gruesome twosome", still rowed together well into the 1990s.

Date: 23/10/99

Olympic rower, 1907-1999

The last time Spencer Grace rowed on his beloved Lane Cove River was just three weeks before his death - at the age of 92. A businessman and sportsman, Grace represented Australia at the 1948 London Olympics. His partner then was Ted Bromley of Palm Beach and the duo, dubbed "the gruesome twosome", still rowed together well into the 1990s.

Frederick Spencer Grace was born in Mosman, his Sydney schooling interrupted by World War I when his father was sent to Melbourne as chairman of the Interstate Shipping Commission (he died in 1919 in the global Spanish flu epidemic).

On the family's return to Sydney, Grace finished his schooling at Mowbray House and North Sydney Boys' where his love affair with sport really began.

While studying accountancy, he became captain of his local tennis and swimming clubs; practice for the latter included diving from the old Roseville Bridge and racing the sharks to the Roseville Baths (where, years later, his sons learned to swim).

Work, too, was going well; at 19, he came sixth in NSW in his accountancy exams, waited two years for admission to the Institute of Accountants, and worked with some of the city's larger practices.

A keen motorcycle racer, he sought a competitive edge by machining parts for his bikes, which served to whet his appetite for engineering. As the Depression bit, he launched, with Roy Burns, Spencer Grace & Co at 175 Pitt Street, a branch of which specialised in a then growth market - motor trade debt collections.

It was about then that he discovered rowing. It was a winter's evening, already dark, when he arrived at the deserted North Shore Rowing Club in Neutral Bay. He paid his dues to the caretaker, against whose wishes he then took one of the club's skiffs, a narrow vessel, not for beginners.

Never having rowed before, he struck out into the busy harbour on a course which brought him into dispute with one of the many ferries (completion of the Harbour Bridge was still two years distant). A collision was avoided but Grace capsized; a passing Italian fisherman returned him, with skiff, to Neutral Bay.

By 1934 he had become captain of the club and would remain in that position until the outbreak of World War II. Those were its golden years, with the unique double in 1938 of the State championship eights and the State premiership pennant.

On the professional front, he'd sold out of private practice and become company accountant with Automatic Totalisators Ltd. He would swiftly become ATL's general manager, putting his meteoric rise down to having become "repulsively organised and pedantic".

In 1935 he married Daphne de Bovis; they honeymooned at Charlotte Pass and he joined the Kosciusko Alpine Club and became a member of the NSW ski team. He was nominated for the skiing and rowing teams for the 1940 Olympics, suspended for the war. In 1939, he rowed in an Australian eight at the centenary Henley regatta, he and his wife learning of the outbreak of war as they steamed home to Australia from England.

He tried to enlist in the RAAF but ATL had been declared essential to armaments production; under Grace's direction it would produce parts for all manner of weapons from howitzers to Mosquito fighter-bombers.

With the war over, ATL returned to making tote machines; Grace became managing director and with his war experience and study at Sydney Technical College (now the University of Technology, Sydney) was admitted to the Institute of Production Engineers and the Australian Institute of Management. There was constant air travel as ATL built markets in India, Africa, the Middle East, North and South America, Europe and Britain.

The pinnacle of his sporting success came in 1948 with the London Olympics, with Bromley in the coxless pairs. Though he didn't compete at the 1952 Olympics, he played a key role in the success of the Australian eight, most of whom would be the honour guard at his funeral.

After the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Grace retired from ATL but not from work, setting up marketing firms in the US and working with a scrap-iron and foundry firm at home.

He retired again in 1985 but not from rowing; when 78, he rowed in the first World Masters' Games in Toronto, winning silver and bronze medals. At 84 he competed in the third Australian Masters' Games in 1991 and won two gold and a bronze. He outdid himself in the World Masters' Games in Brisbane in 1994; then 88, he won two gold, three silver and two bronze medals.

Grace is survived by his first wife and their two sons, and by his widow, Eileen, formerly of New York.

- Philip Grace

from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Spencer Grace - Eulogy

In Memory of Spencer Grace, OAM ...

It is with sadness and sorrow that we report that Spencer Grace passed away on 29 September, 1999 at the age of 92. He is survived by his lovely wife, Eileen, his two sons, Philip and Rod, their wives and grand-children.

Following is an excerpt from the eulogy delivered by Maurie Grace, a long time Member of North Shore Rowing Club, at Spencer's funeral service.

"Frederick Spencer Grace was a most unique person, who, as an Olympian has had quite an impact on Australian sport. His professional and business activities have, as well, impacted on Australian history.

Spencer was studying to gain his accountancy degree when he became emersed in motor cycle racing. Prior to World War 1I he was offered the position of Accountant for the multinational public company, Automatic Totalisators Limited . He was later appointed Secretary of the Company and then General Manager. Following the war, the horse racing industry was ready for the expansion of its totalisator betting facilities on numerous race tracks in virtually all countries of the world. And, Spencer, as Chief Executive of the Totalisator Company, was charged with selling the world on the advantages of the Australian Totalisator.

After some 20 odd years as Chief Executive Officer of the Totalisator group of companies in Australia, UK, USA and France, Spencer retired. During his leisure travels in the US after retiring he became impressed with the way many Americans handled the problem of the daily or weekly laundry. Self-service laundries were everywhere in the US yet there were none in Australia. He began to research the industry and he eventually entered into an agreement with Westinghouse International to distribute their machines in Australia. This resulted in the first self-service laundry and dry cleaning stores in the Southern Hemisphere being opened in Neutral Bay. Then "laundromats", as they are known, were installed in most suburbs in all States in Australia. Spencer's initiative revolutionised the chore of cleaning clothes Australia wide.

Another chapter in Spencer's life follows. It deals with the hours when he was not at work. At play, Spencer was not satisfied with half measures. After some success in football, tennis, swimming and, of course, motor-cycle racing, Spencer became involved in rowing and skiing. He has been a member of an International Rowing Team on two occasions. In 1939, he was a member of the eight-oared crew from Australia, representing the Sydney Club, which competed in the 100th Anniversary Regatta at Henley-on-Thames. In 1948, at 41 years of age, he competed for Australia in the coxless pair oar crew at the 14th Olympic Games. Spencer represented NSW in the King's Cup on two occasions. He has won many elite and championship races both as a crew member and a coach. In 1937, he had the distinction of representing NSW both in its rowing team and its skiing team and was then selected to represent Australia in both sports.

North Shore Rowing Club History

Spencer has been a Member of the North Shore Rowing Club since 1930 and of the Kosciusko Alpine Club since 1935. During the period 1934-39 he was Captain of the Rowing Club, and it was during such period that his Club won its only State Champion eights and State Premiership Pennant in the same year. Spencer has been President of North Shore for over two decades and watched over the Club's finances as its Hon. Treasurer for a period of 22 years. He stepped down as President in 1998 at the age of 91.

He has also been the Club's delegate to the NSW Rowing Association for a virtual life time. In recent years, he has been one of the Rowing Association's Vice-Presidents. He was an accredited Boat Race Official for the Australian Rowing Council for many years. From 1968, he was accredited as a Judge for FISA, the international governing body for rowing worldwide. In 1972 for the Olympic Games in Munich, he was selected by the Australian Rowing Council as the sole Boat Race Official to represent Australia on the International Jury for rowing. Spencer has been an active member of the Union of Old Oarsmen in NSW for many years. He has occupied the position of President of the Union and was still a member of the Committee of that body.

Rowing Achievements

During the last several decades, Spencer has been competing in State, National and International Veterans/Masters Regattas. He has won numerous Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at such regattas. Special mention might be made of the first World Masters Games held in Toronto, Canada in 1985, where he won Silver and Bronze medals. At the Third Australian Masters Games held in November, 1991 in Queensland, at the age of 84, he won two Gold and one Bronze medal The World Masters Games came to Brisbane in 1994 and Spencer was again a competitor in his 88d, year. He competed in nine separate events over the three days and won two Gold, three Silver and two Bronze medals.

For the finaI chapter in Spencers' sporting career, he was included in the Queen's Birthday Honour's List in 1994 when he was awarded an Order of Australia for services to rowing.

His Commitment

Spencer was always a generous benefactor to the sport of rowing. In his later years rowing became his whole life. He lived and breathed it. He was passionate in his devotion to it and revelled in expounding his views on it to all.

Many times I have allowed myself to be drawn into arguments with him about a particular phase of the sport. But then, who amongst us has never had an argument with Spencer? Not many, I would think. And what's more. How many have ever won an argument with him. Again, not many I feel sure.

Spencer could make an argument an art form when he had a mind to. But on deep reflection, I believe it was his way of educating us. He was forcing us to use our brains - to think about what we were doing, either in a boat if we were rowing or if we were coaching, to be sure we weren't talking a load of rubbish to our crew.

Underneath all of his wild ways, his provocative creativity and his sometimes pedantic attitude was a heart of gold. He was always generous, except when-he was in a race against you, or when he gave you a wash from his speedboat. But he was always helpful when help was needed.

I know that Spencer had two final ambitions in life. One was to welcome the new millennium and the other was to witness the Sydney Olympics. Sadly, he won't be able to realise those dreams. But I am sure there can't be one amongst us who would not spare a few thoughts for the old fellow during those periods.

On the other hand thought, you must never underestimate Spencer. Think of his viewing the Olympic Games from the greatest vantage point of all! Where else would that be, but the summit of Mt. Olympus and to be hosted by the 12 Great Gods - the very home of the Greek Deity and all Olympians.

So trust him to have organised the best seat in the house for Frederick Spencer Grace.

Maurie Grace

5 October 1999

Fun Rowing Fact
In 1872 a race was rowed over a five-mile course on the Derwent River, Tasmania, the Sydney Rowing Club winning against the Parramatta Rowing Club, some Hobart Club crews, and one from the Barwon Rowing Club, the time for, the course being 36 min. 30 sec.