DAVE WILLIAMSON – A COMMUNITY CHAMPION – A GREAT FRIEND

HAPPY PLACE Dave Williamson barking out instructions having a crack at coxing

This story is very personal for me. I’ve lost a great mate, a man who believed in me, helped me and encouraged me in whatever endeavour I was doing. He had the ability to instil a strong self belief in people. 

Dave was a warm, generous, welcoming man, the image I’ll always have is his big beaming smile would be followed by ‘Johnny A, what are you up to’. Some of our sessions in the Twizel pub at national regattas I could write a book on and geez that book would be a best seller I reckon. 

A few people make a real positive impression on our lives when you look back. Dave Williamson was one of those special people to me.

I will be forever grateful to Dave not only for what he did for me, but just having the honour of him being a friend.

This story is about the life and contribution to rowing and his community that Dave Williamson made and it was considerable on both counts.

TOUGH BATTLE

Dave passed away on June 18 after a battle with Squamous cell carcinoma cancer of the tongue and neck. But true to his fierce competitive fighting spirit and determination, he fronted for an interview with me just a few days before he passed away despite obviously being gravely ill. His son Kurt kindly sat beside Dave during our interview and although the video vision has Dave drifting in and out of shot and sometimes being difficult to understand, he did so well to get his story across and afterwards told me he really enjoyed the chat.

A 12 hour surgery to remove a tumour and a reconstruction of his tongue caused his speech difficulties, just part of the tough and often painful treatments he underwent to try and beat this terrible disease. In the end Dave departed this world as he wanted, surrounded by his loving family, his wife Sharon, son Kurt and daughters Gemma and Amy, all of them making significant contributions to rowing, the sport they loved.

The Williamson family can all be extremely proud of their contribution to the Marlborough community, rowing in particular. Dave and his wife Sharon owned several successful business in the town including Shell Grove Road and Shell Redwood plus United Video.
FAMILY FIRST The Williamson family, from left: Ella McGovern, Matt McGovern, Any Williamson, Sharon Williamson, Matt Wallis, Kurt Williamson, Dave Williamson, Gemma Williamson

Dave was a champion rowing coach and he did it right from scratch not having had any experience in the sport when he first dipped his toes into coaching waters. 

Rugby was Dave’s passion in his early sporting years. He represented King Country at age group level as a talented five-eighth out of the Waitete Rugby club out of which one of the world’s greatest players and All Blacks, the late Sir Colin Meads came out of along with his All Blacks brother Stan. Dave knew both well and got to play one game alongside both of them.

When it came to rowing, Dave was certainly a quick learner and as one of his great mentors and mates, former New Zealand World Championship-winning coach John Robinson said, he had a sharp eye for the sport, an eye for talent, very good with figures and could judge his rowers abilities pretty accurately. He also had the ability to get young rowers to believe in themselves, to set goals and to achieve them”.

Dave was a champion rowing coach and he did it right from scratch not having had any experience in the sport when he first dipped his toes into coaching waters. 

Rugby was Dave’s passion in his early sporting years. He represented King Country at age group level as a talented five-eighth out of the Waitete Rugby club out of which one of the world’s greatest players and All Blacks, the late Sir Colin Meads came out of along with his All Blacks brother Stan. Dave knew both well and got to play one game alongside both of them.

When it came to rowing, Dave was certainly a quick learner and as one of his great mentors and mates, former New Zealand World Championship-winning coach John Robinson said, he had a sharp eye for the sport, an eye for talent, very good with figures and could judge his rowers abilities pretty accurately. He also had the ability to get young rowers to believe in themselves, to set goals and to achieve them”.

STAR PUPILS Georgia Hammond, left and Sophie MacKenzie show off the bronze medals they won at the junior world champs, a huge thrill also for their club coach Dave Williamson

Dave first became involved with the sport he fell in love with, taking his daughter Gemma to rowing training at the Wairau Rowing Club headquarters on the Wairau River in Blenheim.

Often he would sit in the car or by the river bank waiting for Gemma to finish training but John Robinson invited him out in the coaching boat and very soon Dave wasn’t just a passive spectator, he was offering his opinions on rowers.

John had high praise and much admiration for Dave’s ability to absorb knowledge and with the way he developed into a very successful coach, breaking the traditional mould of how coaches evolve from being rowers themselves.

 John said, “Dave became a regular in the coaching boat with me and he got better and better. I spent five years with him. I would tell him what was happening and then I’d ask his opinion. He just picked it up. 

“He loved it and he was great to work with. Always a few steps ahead of himself, a lot of fun and he would always listen to good advice. He wouldn’t have had an enemy in the world, very loyal to his family and friends.”

GOLD Super coach Dave Williamson another gold medal crew at the 2096 Maadi Cup with rowers Laura Tester and Sophie Newsham

Dave Williamson coached Marlborough Girls College crews to a long list of national secondary schools (Maadi Cup) and national open championship medals, in fact his success was phenomenal in a highly competitive environment.

Dave estimated, figures back up by John Robinson, that his crews won at least six Maadi Cup gold medals and twice that number at national senior open championships and over-all in both those events his crews took out close to 80 medals during his 18 seasons coaching in the province

The Williamson’s moved to Hawke’s Bay in 2018 but their efforts will never be forgotten by those they helped and worked with and in Hawke’s Bay Dave’s wonderful work with rowing continued. He set up a program for a group of students from Fairhaven school who had intellectual and or physical disabilities. A tribute from that school is included below.

He applied for funding to enable these students to learn how to row. Dave started out taking weekly rowing sessions on the ergs but ultimately wanted each student to achieve the joy of rowing out on the water.

Dave loved the success that came with his coaching but the most joy he got was in watching his crews being rewarded for all their hard work in what is a very tough, demanding sport. He enjoyed seeing them grow as good people learning skills that would set them up for life and of course being fiercely competitive himself very much enjoyed his crews winning medals.

Dave was always very conscious of his athletes well being both physical and mental, one of the reasons those he coached enjoyed their time with him so much.

Off the water Dave’s contributions to both the Marlborough Girls College and Marlborough Boys College was significant, the amount of time he put in and the help he gave providing equipment and sponsorship.

The Williamson family can all be extremely proud of their contribution to the Marlborough community, rowing in particular. Dave and his wife Sharon owned several successful business in the town including Shell Grove Road and Shell Redwood plus United Video and were generous sponsors of Marlborough rowing.

All three of their children Gemma, Amy and Kurt won national championship medals and Sharon was employed by Rowing New Zealand as manager of the Central Rowing High Performance centre based at Wairau. She was also an official at national regattas usually up in the judges box working with the timing team.

NAIL BITING Dave Williamson and his son Kurt co coaches at the Maadi cup regatta at Lake Ruataniwha in Twizel They needn’t have worried their crews finished first and second in this fours event

Accolades from the New Zealand rowing community poured in following Dave’s death. Former New Zealand coach Bill Campbell had Dave on board coaching Marlborough Boys College with him for a couple of years and said the entire Williamson family made a big contribution to rowing.

“Dave’s contribution to both clubs (Blenheim and Wairau) and both colleges through his involvement and equipment funding raised was unequaled.

“I enjoyed two seasons sitting in the coaching boat alongside him and his excitement watching a crew or crews go fast was an enjoyment in itself. He will be forever watching. RIP Dave.”

Dave and myself (the writer) got together in Blenheim one-day after Queen Charlotte College and Picton rowing club star Joseph Sullivan was left out of the New Zealand junior squad for the World championships despite Joseph having produced probably the greatest hours performance ever at a Maadi Cup regatta winning three gold medals inside 45 minutes.

Dave lodged an official appeal and assisted by an aggressive media campaign, the appeal was successful. Joseph and Daniel Karena were added to the New Zealand squad and went on to win a bronze medal in the double sculls, the originally selected crew coming home empty handed.

Joseph reckons Dave’s efforts and that event changed the course of his life. He’s since gone on to win five World rowing titles an Olympic gold medal and has twice been a winning crew member in Team New Zealand’s Americas Cup yachting victories.

Joseph’s success gave Dave huge enjoyment and pride and he was in London to watch in person the Olympic triumph.

Speaking earlier this week, Joseph paid tribute to Dave, a man he had massive respect for.

“What can I say. He was the man everybody in Marlborough knew and for all the right reasons. He gave everybody the time of day especially if you had anything to do with or wanted to know anything about rowing.

“The passion he had for rowing came second only to his family and that was hugely clear. He was always so proud of his kids even more so because they all took up rowing at some point. I remember as a teenager he would stop at the boat park or along the lake side to tell me how Gemma, Amy or Kurt had done.

“He didn’t even coach me but he always knew my results and the results of all the crews from Marlborough in any regatta.

“You also never wanted to get on the wrong side of the man either. He hated injustice and it would not matter who had wronged who because if Dave knew about it and he knew who was at fault he would not hesitate to tell them no matter their position.

“This may have been even to his own detriment and kept him from coaching New Zealand crews and that was a huge loss.

I will never be able to thank Dave and the Williamson family enough for the enormous impact they have all played in my life.

“With Dave playing a huge role in getting me into the New Zealand junior team with a huge push from the Marlborough Rowing Association, overturning a non selection which got Daniel (Karena) and I to the World junior champs in Germany.

I had finished with rowing but that result started even bigger things.

“But it doesn’t end there. I made a small enquiry to John Alexander in an attempt to get my parents driveway in Picton fixed

which turned into John and Dave breaking into my parents house making a list and then creating a huge home renovation mission with huge support from Marlborough, again because no-one can say no to these men.

“The things Dave did to help a boy he didn’t even coach will never be taken for granted or forgotten.

“Thank you Dave, it was an honour to have known you.”

“Dave was the best coach. There was seriousness, but relaxing times training too. Dave taught me how to train hard and always made sure there was a great team environment. He taught us how to row together as a crew and I wouldn’t have got to where I did without Dave’s coaching and support.”

Champion Coach , Champion Rower - Sophie Mackenzie with coach and mentor Dave Williamson

Dave rated  Sophie MacKenzie and Georgia Hammond as two of the best rowers he coached. Out of Marlborough Girls College, Georgia formed a devastating double sculls combination with Sophie.

Sophie went on to shine at elite level as well, winning two world titles in the lightweight double with Julia Edward in 2014-2015 and her and Georgia won a bronze medal at the world junior champs. Sophie won two bronze and a gold at under 23 World championships.

Reminiscing about those days, Georgia said, “Dave was a laid back and happy coach that made it a fun time rowing. Always encouraging and believed in me even though I was a short arse and didn’t fit the typical rowing physique.

“Dave was the best coach. There was seriousness, but relaxing times training too. Dave taught me how to train hard and always made sure there was a great team environment. He taught us how to row together as a crew and I wouldn’t have got to where I did without Dave’s coaching and support.”

Georgia’s mum Sarah was very much involved supporting her daughters rowing career and working as a camp mum at regattas. She had high praise for Dave.

“Dave was passionate about rowing and that showed in his dedication and commitment to the girls. Nothing was ever a problem. Dave never missed a training and would always be there to help any girl if their car broke down or they were stuck and couldn’t get to training. 

“Dave saw the ability in Georgia despite her not being the recommended height to become an elite rower. Dave told me once, one of the junior selectors told him Georgia was too short. Dave said, find someone in these trials that can beat her then. They couldn’t and she was selected at the age of 16 for the New Zealand junior squad.

“It was Dave’s coaching, personality and the way he could connect with the girls that made him special. Georgia got to where she did because of his belief in her.” 

Champions of Marlborough Rowing, from left, Rosanne Marsden, Dave Williamson and Sharon Williamson heading to the London Olympic Games.

Sioned Oliver, a teacher from Fairhaven School in Hawkes Bay sung Dave’s praises loudly for the contribution he made there.

“It’s not often that a sporting coach approaches a specialist school to offer their services.

“Dave did and said, ’Sioned I want to get your students rowing and competing at Lake Karapiro’ and so our journey began.

Fairhaven applied for funding and as Sioned said, “I’m not sure who was more excited when the funding was approved, the students or Dave. He built a special relationship with each and every student and made rowing on the erg fun for the students.

“For a couple of our students their attendance was an issue but the pathway Dave gave these young people drastically improved their attendance and engagement in sport and school. Dave’s determination and inclusive approach has begun a legacy that there Hawke’s Bay Rowing club, Fairhaven school and Dave’s whanau will continue to grow.

“Dave was a real character as well as an incredibly kind man. He made a huge impact on both my daughters as well as my students. The Williamson project will continue. We all miss Dave and my students performed a beautiful Haka on the day of his funeral.”

A Memorial event was held last week at the Wairau Rowing Club and a memorial seat was unveiled by the river, one of his favourite places.

RIP Dave. Thank you for all the people you helped believe in themselves, achieve things they never thought possible and the positive difference you made in so many people’s lives, young and old including mine.

Story by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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