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australian rowers profiles and history

Robert (Bob) Pennington

Adelaide University Boat Club then Adelaide Rowing Club (SA)

12 Nov 1936 - 13 Nov 2016

Bob was a distinguished coach, rowing umpire, and State and national rowing administrator.

Rowing no doubt started early for Bob being a son of the famous rower, coach, administrator and life member of Rowing South Australia, H G "Brick" Pennington. He was the second of four brothers, all of whom rowed both at and after school. However his first recorded rowing activity was at St Peter's College where he noted that he "stroked Saints 1st VIII to an inglorious defeat".

From school, he rowed for one season at Adelaide University Boat Club before transferring to Adelaide Rowing Club. He was a highly effective club senior rower who was determined and tough. He studied engineering at university and had a variety of career paths including owner of an earth moving business.

He ventured into teaching during this time and was rowing master at Pembroke School and coached their first VIII for four years. He also coached other schools. However as his business commitments developed, his teaching life was overtaken. Bob became a significant player in South Australian fisheries industry. He owned and operated a successful abalone fishing business. And perhaps more importantly for domestic life, he assisted his wife Carole on their farm where goats were milked and bred.

His administrative skills were used in his business activities being appointed President of Abalone Industry Association of SA, Deputy Chair of South Australian Fisheries Council and Director of Primary Industries Skills Council (SA).

Carole and Bob at 1996 Olympic Games

However back to his rowing activities.

Bob joined the Rowing SA Board and served on it for 20 years, with at least 8 of those years as Chairman and other years as President. He was very astute and analytical, always able to assess the best way forward for the organisation. He had an uncanny ability to manage people of nearly all persuasions and enjoyed bringing down to earth with humour any pomposity. Being a practical man, his solutions were always sound and most importantly, workable. During his time as Chair of Rowing South Australia he lobbied government for funding to develop the West Lakes course including the start pontoons. There was no surprise that he was appointed an honorary life member of the Association in 2014.

Bob excelled in the world of umpiring starting in 1980 at SA regattas. Very quickly he gained his Australian licence in 1982 and not long after that in 1986, gained his FISA licence. He umpired at his first World Championships at the 1990 Lake Barrington regatta. He then attended either as a delegate to the FISA Congress or as an umpire, every World Championships from 1994-2007. He umpired at the Olympic Games in 1996 and 2000. He chaired the Australian Umpires Commission from 1991-1999 with leadership and clarity. Even after this period, he was called upon with regularity to assess and coach Australian level umpires and was referee at most South Australian regattas for some decades.

Bob in a typical pose supervising umpires at 2004 National Championships

Not surprisingly, his skills were sought by Rowing Australia, particularly after 1995 when elite funding from the government was withdrawn. He was Deputy Chair of Rowing Australia assisting Dr Steve Hinchy as President from 1995-99. He rejoined the Rowing Australia Board again in 2007-08.

We were fortunate to have such a capable person assisting and developing our sport over such a prolonged period of time.

Steve Pennington and Andrew Guerin
January 2024

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