Dr John Marks (1924-2016) died earlier this week, aged 92. He was a huge supporter of Cambridge University sport, and particularly rowing, for over forty years, putting his time, expertise and reputation on the line for the men’s and women’s University Boat Clubs.
John was the first male Fellow appointed at Girton College in 1977 and the following year took on the role of Senior Treasurer to Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club; a role he did not relinquish until 1994. He twice held the post of Senior Treasurer of Cambridge University Boat Club, from 1986-1997 and briefly again from 1998-1999, after which he served on the board of BRCL, the organisation responsible for organising the Boat Races, for some years. John worked hard to improve co-operation between the clubs and always hoped to see the two on a more equal footing. He was delighted to see the Women’s Boat Race join the Men’s Race on the Tideway in 2015 and the associated integration of the women’s squad into the Goldie Boathouse and the start of construction of the new combined University Boathouse at Ely.
Describing himself as a ‘lucky workaholic chicken’, he took great pleasure in encouraging some of the most talented and competitive teenagers to achieve excellence in their academic and sporting careers. He had attended Latymer Upper School, Hammersmith, from 1937-1941, where he rowed in the school boat club, played football in the 1st XI, 1939-1941 and won his football colours. He was a House Prefect, school Vice-Captain, Captain of Boxing, Football and Cricket and an editor of the school magazine. John arrived in Cambridge as a research fellow attached to Downing College in 1946, having completed his medical studies at Middlesex, Bart’s and Westminster Hospitals to which he had gained a Scholarship. He played an active part in organising annual Cambridge dinners for Latymerians until 1961 after which he believed the new Head Teacher did not approve of the university, favouring Oxford instead. During his time studying medicine in London he rowed at Thames RC and captained the United Hospitals Boat Club. He was also an accomplished hockey, cricket and squash player and involved in the university and college teams in football, rugby and sailing.
Photo: Copyright Girton College
John had spent some years working as a Researcher, Marketing Director and then CEO of the British and Commonwealth office of a major international company. He was made a Life Fellow of Girton College, where he ‘spent the happiest 35 years of [his] life’ and in 2013 the College named the new sports pavilion in his honour and in recognition of his great contribution to college and university sport.
John married Twin and they had two children, John (“young John”) and Jane. After her early death, Jane Marks left generous and equal bequests to CUWBC and CUBC to be held in trust to support the clubs with equipment and capital costs. Throughout his involvement with the University Boat Clubs John was generous with his time and active in seeking support from all quarters. He arranged funds for the CUWBC lightweight eight bought in 1985 and in 1994 raised £10,000 sponsorship from Beefeater for the two women’s Blue Boats. CUBC were particularly indebted to John for guiding them out of the long sequence of losses to Oxford in the “Topolski years” via the introduction of professional coaching and finally Cambridge’s unbroken run of successes from 1993 to 1999
Amongst the thirty or more technical books he wrote he also found time to collate rowing histories, co-writing ‘Battle of the Blues’ to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the mean’s Boat Race and ‘The Bumps: An Account of the Cambridge University Bumping Races 1827-1999’. Throughout his retirement he was always busy with projects: he researched names of past alumni of the women’s crews to assist Jane Kingsbury and Carol Williams with their history of CUWBC published in 2015; he had worked out an algorithm which he claimed could predict the winning time of the Boat Race based on crew and environmental factors and one of his last projects was to compile the records of Oxford and Cambridge inter-varsity competition in all sports from 1932 as a second volume to follow on from Harold Abrahams’ earlier publication.
Dr John Marks was a remarkable man: a scholar, mentor, teacher and an inspirational gentleman who will be fondly remembered and much missed by all those who knew him.