Ron Needs Remembrance Book

Thank you for visiting this tribute page to our legendary coach Ron.


In rowing circles, Ron Needs is a legend playing a significant part in university and international rowing in Great Britain. Ron was involved with coaching for much of his adult life fitting volunteer coaching around a very full business life.
Ron studied at LSE and during the war years the college was relocated to Cambridge, maybe his love for Cambridge rowing started during this period. Ron was a GB coach from 1973 to 2006 coaching at four Olympic Games, whilst also coaching CUWBC for over 11 years and winning 10 Boat Races. Ron was a true gentleman, who was well remembered for his kindness and meticulous crew preparation. His innovation and attention to detail always ensured that his crews were well prepared and supported.


We ask you to leave a tribute to Ron and share your memories of this very special member of our CUWBC family.

  • Debra Flewin
    Posted at 15:39h, 29 April Reply

    Ron coached me in 1986 and ’87 in the GB squad.. In those days we trained at Thorpe Park, where it was always bitterly cold and there were no facilities whatsoever. Ron always brought hot drinks, squash and biscuits for us and we would stand and freeze huddled out behind his car as that was the only shelter. I also remember a brilliant training camp in Sabaudia,Italy. There was an army base in the town and there did not seem to be any other women around. Ron was rather nervous about his girls being out on the loose and so we weren’t supposed to walk into town. I had a serious accident while out training on the tideway in the winter of ’87/’88. Ron rescued me – pulled me out of the water and took me to hospital. He looked after me – visiting me in hospital and helping me with my recovery. Rowing was the most important aspect of my life when I was in my 20s and Ron was a key figure. Ron had confidence in my ability and I rowed well when he was training us. Not all coaches had that effect on me! I will always remember him.

  • Lene Northwood (nee Hansen)
    Posted at 16:07h, 29 April Reply

    So very sad to learn of Ron’s passing. He was a constant presence alongside Roger during my time as a rower (I can clearly hear his distinctive tones in my head as I write this!) and also after our race at the many supporters functions over the decades. He was a man whose commitment to our cause ran deep, both to the success of CUWBC itself and its members, Despite his phenomenal history he was always keen to learn something new and stay connected to the beating heart of international rowing. Still, he gave generously of his time, his money and of course, his knowledge. My condolences to his family and a message that CUWBC wouldn’t be what it is today without him.

  • Rachael Steele (Crew)
    Posted at 16:30h, 29 April Reply

    So sad to hear about the news of Ron. He played such an important part in shaping the happy and life changing memories I have of my rowing years. He exuded all the confidence, professionalism and tenacity we needed to win….a true sporting leader whom I looked up to and admired. I feel privileged to have been trained by him. My thoughts go to his family at this time.

  • Patricia Barsanti
    Posted at 16:58h, 29 April Reply

    Saddened by the news, I would like to give my humble yet heartfelt contribution to this hommage page for Ron, who coached us in 1991-1993. I was not one of the star rowers, and in any case I was foreign, so I probably had less to do with him than our fantastic Cath Bishop or any other girl whom he thought had the potential to go on to represent Britain, yet even from my seat, I saw how much Ron’s presence on the Cam or at Ely meant the crews would give their very best, and always try harder. He did not need to yell, he did not need to say much, indeed, he did not even need to ask. Such was the force of his past input into Cambridge crews that when we met him for the first time in 1991 as part of the trial VIIIs, we knew this was THE man who knew and in front of whom we wanted to shine. And what a keen and sharp eye he had. Whether at Marlow, during the winter training camp, which was probably the time during which we saw him at his most relaxed, or whether during the many outings where he came to check on the boats’ progress, he only needed a few seconds to pinpoint whatever you had been doing wrong, and give you clues to right it. Many a girl had confidence problems throughout the trials and the subsequent season leading to the Boat races. Ron would always know this, and his well-thought words of encouragement meant a whole lot to each and everyone of us, He somehow became both a father figure and the person we most wanted to please by our results. To hear him, in his distinctive soft voice, congratulate a boat was more reward than eighteen tons of Nadia’s fudge (or any other such delicacy). His continuous successes, and hence his many obligations, as GB coach never got in the way of his attendance to the Cambridge crews, and it was unbelievable for us to even think that someone who was coaching such talented athletes would also spend time with us. Yet he never made us feel we were not worthy of his interest, much to the contrary. In fact, Ron was the epithome of THE coach : attentive both to the technical progress and to the mental state of his athletes. All of us who, albeit briefly for some, crossed his path, have strong undilutable memories of his teachings and the man he was. Rest in peace, Ron, and may you find a good stretch of river, possibly a tad wider than the Cam, to bring a heavenly crew to master the perfect stroke !
    Pat Barsanti – Blondie 1992-1993

  • Julia de Beer
    Posted at 19:32h, 29 April Reply

    I only met Ron once. We were in the rowing tank in Goldie boat house. I don’t remember exactly what he said to me but I do remember his kindness, and feeling very supported. I suddenly understood the admiration of all the old girls and second/third year triallists for him. I would like to pass on my sincerest condolences to his family, and I hope that everyone will remember him as fondly as I do.

  • Cath Bishop
    Posted at 21:57h, 30 April Reply

    Ron left his mark on every student he coached and on the club in so many ways that live on. He was willing to fight for women’s rowing at university and national level – he will be sorely missed, but he has left an incredible legacy – CUWBC will always remember him and what he has done for the club, it was an honour and a privilege to meet him so early in my rowing career and have his support at Cambridge and beyond. RIP Ron x

  • Clare Glackin
    Posted at 18:52h, 01 May Reply

    Ron cared deeply about women’s rowing. He worked tirelessly to drive up standards in his incubator in Cambridge (CUWBC). He left an incredible legacy and lived through a transformation in the sport I was very lucky to be coached by him in the 1992 and 1993 Blue Boats. I remember many absorbing hours at analysing frame by frame VHS recordings of our technique (revealing my catch to be painfully slow). He gave so much and I am very grateful to him for all he did for all of us. It was life-changing. Thank you Ron x

  • Charlotte Monico
    Posted at 10:28h, 02 May Reply

    Ron took a chance on me as a very inexperienced rower to take a place in the Cambridge Blue Boat. He was unfailing in both his encouragement and his clear articulation of what needed to improve! I couldn’t thank him enough for such a formative period of my life. While taking it all very seriously he also had a good sense of humour and could see the funny side. – I can picture his face breaking into a grin. Thank you Ron!

  • Sophia Supple (nee Khan)
    Posted at 08:42h, 03 May Reply

    Ron was a brilliant coach and an inspirational person. I shall never forget the influence he has had on my life. Nearly 30 yrs on I still have our crew t- shirt ” we got The Needs ….for speed”. It was an honour to have known and been coached by Ron.
    Sophia, Blue boat 1990

  • Alison Mowbray
    Posted at 14:19h, 04 May Reply

    Ron was a big part of my rowing life for very many years. So many wonderful Ron stories! He gave me my first break in International Rowing. I’d unexpected won an U23 trial and no-one really knew what to do with me, but Ron arranged a one-woman time trial at Henley so I could make the qualification time for the U23 single that year. He then coached me at Cambridge for 2 years as part of CUWBC. I used the race visualization technique he taught us for every race for the rest of my career and now teach it to others. Ron seemed to pick up the talent that was outside the notice of a very small GB Women’s rowing system at the end of the 1990s and gave so many of us the coaching and support we needed. I was part of a group of 6 scullers that he coached at Henley every weekend in the run up to the Atlanta Olympics and sometimes I used to stay with Ron and Katy at their house. It was like a home from home those weekends. Ron not only gave his time and coaching talent but often paid travel and accommodation expenses for us poor students out of his own pocket. I will always remember Ron with great affection and gratitude for so many things, not least the endless supply of digestive biscuits (which he claimed were the perfect recovery food).

  • kate grose
    Posted at 08:15h, 06 May Reply

    Ron was not coaching CUW when I was there, that came later, but he did coach me in the GB squad for two years; his endless patience and support through some tough times training at Thorpe Park where the facilities were non existent (no loos or even a water tap); we were invited back to his house in Effingham every week-end where Katy would serve a huge breakfast, always worrying about making sure the milk was in a jug and not out of the bottle before ‘the boss” entered the room. His later support of CUWBC, along with Roger Silk, for so many years was the great steadying factor for decades of success. One thing I particularly remember: he was sensitive to crew responses to him, and if he didn’t think he was the man for the job for a particular crew or individual he often stepped back and handed some of his athletes to other coaches, keeping an overall eye from afar, at the expense of his own ego. A rare talent. I have one criticism, though; he invited some of us to a box at Covent garden once, when he was still at Beechams, and the performance was wonderful, but he wouldn’t let us drink the champagne in the interval. My sense of duty was clearly less than his!

  • Blaise Metreweli
    Posted at 19:47h, 06 May Reply

    Ron has had an enduring effect on my life and clearly many others’. It wasn’t just the rowing – although his skill was legendary. I loved his endless patience & love of frosty mornings at Ely. His leadership and coaching style was striking: quiet, unassuming yet unambiguous and steely. He played well at being serious, but I still smile when I recall how his mouth would twitch into a grin and unexpected chuckle. He took a chance on me for CUWBC’s 1995/96 Blue boat. A small memory: key 2k ergo time trial during our selection – it felt like the make or break moment. 1500m in, I’d blown up, knew I couldn’t do it. Friends were shouting encouragement, but nothing left. Ron came to stand behind me, pursing his lips. Said nothing, did nothing but catch my eye in the mirror. I’ve never felt that jolt of belief before or since. Powered up, I nailed a PB and made the boat. Ron’s ability to see the best in people – and devote his time and energy to develop them – remains inspirational. I’m sorry I never got to tell him all this myself, but know that his spirit remains in so many wonderful people. RIP.

  • Helen Burnett
    Posted at 20:29h, 06 May Reply

    I came across Ron whilst rowing at the beginning of the 1980’s. I cannot recall whether it was CUWBC or GB training squad where our paths first crossed but he stood out for me as kind, fair and uncomplicated; a voice of reason and someone with a genuine interest in and concern for the individual. At the time there were just ‘women’ no lightweights, no differentiation and as a small (5’4″) stroke of the blue boat (1981 and 1982) I was up against people a lot bigger. Moving back to the tideway where I first leant to row (Thames 1975-78) to Tideway Scullers and the training squad I continued to combine my passion for rowing and sculling in particular with a demanding teaching job in Hackney and a blossoming romance with my husband to be. One wet windy day at Holmepierpoint it became clear I was not going to make the squad that year. Ron was so kind and had the time and insight to suggest that, with so many strings to my bow I could go off and do anything I wanted , that there was indeed more too life than rowing! Somehow he released me to go of and do all the other things I then filled my life with. There was a generosity and wisdom in that which I have never forgotten..

  • Karen Wiemer
    Posted at 09:05h, 09 May Reply

    Ron was deeply committed to the crews and individuals he took under his wing. He gave freely of his time and experience. I know he often helped CUWBC financially whether with equipment purchases or by inviting the whole crew to a lovely lunch during the pre-race week at Henley. I was fortunate to have rowed in three Blue Boats under the sharp and caring eyes of Ron and Roger Silk. They made a very good team; patiently working with each crew be it on the water, reviewing endless video or rigging and re-rigging boats. I think they were especially pleased to get the gearing just right on the Empacher the crew was loaned for the 1990 Windermere Cup in Seattle after hours and hours of tweaking. The main thing I remember, however is a quiet voice and that little cough. The latter was always a good indicator of how he thought we were doing! His gentle steadying influence, limitless support and quiet humour will be missed.

    • Pip Graham
      Posted at 12:37h, 09 May Reply

      Couldn`t agree more, Weimer !

  • Pip Graham
    Posted at 12:35h, 09 May Reply

    I had the privilege of being part of Ron`s CUWBC rowing squad for a two year period in the 1990s. I still have some of his hand written four week training schedules, crammed onto an A4 piece of paper, littered with his shorthand and acronyms. It was like a new language. I, along with my crew mates, had an unshakeable faith in Ron`s guidance. We strove to impress him, we endeavoured to enthuse him with our performances. Quiet spoken, the cough ever present, almost shy, he moulded us and encouraged us to believe in ourselves and in eachother. It is an honour to have rowed in two of this ten Blue Boat winning crews. Away from the water, he showed huge generosity and so often footed the bill for the club or the crew. We as a club owe him a huge debt of gratitude for relentlessly championing women`s rowing at Cambridge, and I am delighted to know that he lived to witness the women`s University boat races take place on the Tideway.

  • Kat Astley
    Posted at 08:43h, 10 May Reply

    “I feel lucky to count Ron as a friend, and have always felt incredibly grateful to him for the positive impact he has had on my entire life. I hope he knew how I felt about him, and that I loved and respected him. Ron coached me at CUWBC, and through this I am fortunate to have made my closest friendships which hold firm today, to have had some amazing experiences that shaped my character, my attitudes and my skills, to have worked in partnership with him as President of CUWBC (which was a great privelege) and to have coached with him and received his mentorship as a rowing coach in later years at CUWBC when I enjoyed giving back a little of what I felt fortunate to have received through the Club and through him. Ron taught me the importance of attention to detail, of standards, of prioritising, and showed me how to transmit energy and confidence to others through personal force of communication. I was immensely proud when Ron agreed to witness my passing-out from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and was reminded that he had served himself. Because of the love of rowing that Ron helped me develop, I became a professional rowing coach for a number of years, as a result of which I had many unique experiences and built some amazing relationships. I wouldn’t change a thing! I think of Ron as incredibly kindly, wise, sensitive (although sometimes cruel-to-be-kind, another useful life lesson!), and full of integrity. I have one regret, which is that I did not nominate Ron for an MBE when I was nominating his peer Roger Silk. I wrongly assumed that the great rowing community already recognised him properly, and I hope that now people are reflecting on Ron’s incredible life and phenomenal achievements he will be given posthumous recognition of his great service. This is a man who had a positive impact on hundreds if not thousands of people’s lives, and who has inspired us all to be the best we can be at whatever we choose to do. I shall never forget him, and I hold countless images of him in my mind – nearly all in a blue GB quilted coat or smartly dressed in blazer and tie. You are missed, Ron. Kat xx”

  • Carol Williams
    Posted at 08:45h, 10 May Reply

    Ron gave the benefit of his broad experience of rowing at all levels including three Olympic events. He was generous with his time although in the early days he had quite a journey to get to Cambridge and coaching at outings frequently involved overnight accommodation, the expenses for which he covered himself.

    Besides a deep understanding of technique, Ron also introduced the concepts of rowing physiology and rowing psychology, which were being introduced at that time. Many of the crews will recall his use of videos of the outing and the discussions on details and faults in technique afterwards.

    He will also be remembered for his generosity in donations towards the purchase of boats and oars.

  • Peter Convey
    Posted at 08:47h, 10 May Reply

    It was sad to hear news of Ron’s passing, but it’s also warming to see the genuine tributes to him. I spent many hours, days, and weeks with CUW crews in the period when he and Roger were running things with such success, and indeed also worked very closely with John in the same period with his ambitions to see CUWBC make a step change in its independence and ability, and also in the setting up of CUCBC as the University Clubs moved progressively away from Cambridge itself.

    Posted at 20:36h, 08 June Reply

    Over a month has passed since Ron’s death. I had seen the flag at Leander fly at half mast and wondered why and was later informed of the news. What strikes me is the fact that I was privileged to have been coached by one of Women’s Rowing true ambassadors and History makers and treated by him with the same courtesy and commitment as internationals and rowing giants. Ron was a constant in my university rowing world – not only did he coach me in CUWBC in 1991 ( I suspect he was instrumental in my demotion to Blondie in Trials – showing foresight and perspicacity!) – but he was “Uncle Ron” to our LMBC VIII which became Head of the River and won Women’s Henley. Together with that other tour de force Roger Silk, he appears in so many of my rowing photos and memories – quietly present, observant and insistent when he needed to be. My first real exposure was at Rowing camp when he explained Resting Pulses and the need for Carb intake. I still think of his graph the night before a race as I cook up the pasta. My abiding memory is of him behind the Camcorder on the Henley towpath during the week’s preparation at Henley – he would appear from behind a tree and film us. We were resolved to all turn and shout “Hi Mum” at one point but didn’t dare. – for along with the twinking eyes and soft voice came a steeliness. Before Ron’s death I wrote an LMBC memoir which talks of how rowing has shaped the person I am today (I live in Henley thanks to that pre race preparation week) and how rowing was the legacy of a Cambridge education.
    ” it was an education not in the hallowed lecture halls but on the flowing River Cam, under the tutelage of “dons” such as Roger Silk and Ron Needs. It was the 7.30 am supervision at the LMBC boathouse and the lectures on sharpness at the catch which were the fundament of my Cambridge life. I have to thank Ron for his contribution to my Cambridge..and present …life and am so pleased we took the time to name a boat after him and thank him last year at Henley Royal Regatta. Yours was a lofe of dedication and commitment to Women’s rowing for which we are truly thankful.

    But it was an education not in the hallowed lecture halls but on the flowing River Cam, under the tutelage of “dons” such as Roger Silk and Ron Needs. It was the 7.30 am supervision at the LMBC boathouse and the lectures on sharpness at the catch which were the fundament of my Cambridge life.

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