Saturday, 4 August 2012

People from the past: 5. Jack Wilson

Jack Wilson, right, with his rowing partner Ran Laurie

With the wonderful news of British sporting success in the 2012 London Olympics it seems right to remember some Budleigh residents of the past who may have inspired today's champions.  

John Hyrne Tucker Wilson, known as Jack Wilson, was a British rowing champion and Olympic gold medallist whose family lived at Elvestone on Fore Street Hill. Born on 17 September 1914 in Bristol, Rhode Island, USA, to British parents, he was educated in Texas and Shrewsbury School in Shropshire, before attending Pembroke College, Cambridge.

While at Cambridge, he rowed in three successive Boat Races (1934–36) in which Cambridge defeated Oxford. During the 1935 and 1936 races, he rowed alongside Ran Laurie, father of the actor Hugh Laurie, who became his rowing partner after Cambridge and a life-long friend.

After graduating from University, Wilson took a post as a District Commissioner with the Sudan Political Service, missing an opportunity to participate alongside Laurie in Britain’s Eights boat at the 1936 Olympics. With Laurie joining the Sudan Political Service the following year, the two men joined forces in rowing and, while on leave from colonial service in 1938, won the Silver Goblets at Henley Royal Regatta.

Both Wilson and Laurie returned to Sudan following their success, and continued to serve in the Sudan Political Service through the Second World War. In 1946, Wilson survived an attack by a local woman in Sudan who threw an assegai spear at him.

In 1948 Wilson and Laurie returned to Henley and once again won the Silver Goblets, having had little training and no opportunity to row since their success in the event ten years earlier. This was followed later that year by an Olympic gold medal, once again rowing at Henley.

Jack Wilson retired from the colonial service in 1954 and worked for the British Steel Corporation. He died on 16 February 1997, aged 82.

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