Friends, crewmates and heroes

Many things in life just happen, some lucky, being in the right place at the right time. Others not so lucky, but work out in the end…

I was not particularly sporty at school. I played rugby for 5 years without scoring a point, and was asked to be the linesman when we played football.

After I had got my place in Hertford, I visited the son of one of my father’s school friends at New College. He said given how tall I was, I should give rowing a go. So that’s what I did.

I rowed in the 1st novice VIII, then the 2nd Torpid VIII and won my first blade. Then 2nd VIII for eights week. I got into the OUBC development crew to race at Henley Royal Regatta. Over the summer I rowed at Lea Rowing Club, and raced almost every weekend. I’d caught the rowing bug.

In the autumn I found out where the OUBC were training and just turned up. We were sent out in pairs, a boat I had never rowed in. Then my first piece of luck. My partner was ill, and so was Hugh Pelhem’s (ISIS 1986). Rather than shuffle all the boats, Hugh and I were sent out together. We just clicked (or had compatible poor technique) but we were immediately among the top pairs. So that’s how I got noticed.

My first race was in 1987 was the “mutiny” year. Initially I was the stroke for ISIS, but when 5 American world- class rowers quit, I was promoted to the blue boat. Another lucky break, albeit in unfortunate circumstances. The 1987 race was a “classic”. We were rank outsiders, but “luck” with the weather and some inspired coxing meant that Cambridge got waterlogged, while we battled the waves with rather less water in our boat. We won by 4 lengths!

Photograph of Paul rowing at Oxford witrh his crew, given to Hertford by Paul's family. The photo is named 'Paul at stroke'.
Photograph of Paul rowing at Oxford with his crew, shared with Hertford by Paul’s family. The photo is named ‘Paul at stroke’.

After a lot more rowing, my time at Oxford came to an end. I avoided the “rower’s 3rd” which I attribute to Vardhan Rajkumar. He scored one of the highest 1st in Engineering, and happened to live next door. “Raj” was also a great member of HCBC, rowing in and coaching many crews, ending up with a boat load of blades.

I look back at my time rowing with Hertford and the university with great memories. All the university friends I keep in touch with were in the boat club. I have also met up a few times with my OUBC crews. These past few years we have been celebrating our 30th reunions.

One “old blue” in particular has a special significance for me. I rowed with Tom Cadoux-Hudson in 1987 and 1988. He was a post-grad medical student, researching the possible benefits of a new scanning technique leading to the MRI scanners of today. I was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2003. Looking at the MRI scan for the first time was the worst moment of my life. The consultant said he would refer me to a surgeon called Mr. Cadoux-Hudson. “Oh you mean Tom” I said. So 15 years after our last race together, I turned up Monday morning in Tom’s office asking for his professional services.

Having rowed with Tom, we knew each other well. Spending 3 hours almost every day for 2 years with someone, in such an intense environment, builds trust and respect. Knowing that I trusted Tom really helped my wife Karen, my daughter Lottie and the rest of my family. Needless to say Tom did a good job, and again in 2013 when I had my second operation. He is the hero of my story.

In summary, I read rowing and did some engineering in my spare time. I would not go back and change it. I’ve never been asked to design a steam turbine, but the friends I made, the things I learnt about myself, and what is important in life, are the things that endure.

Paul Gleeson, Engineering, Economics and Management, 1984 and Former HCBC President. Paul was born in Brentwood, Essex on November 28, 1965 and with sadness we share that Paul passed away on Christmas Day 2022.

Please note, this article first appeared in the Hertford College Donor Report 2019 on page 19. We wanted to reshare the post as we fondly remember the life of Paul Gleeson this Summer VIIIs weekend, May 2023.


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