Rebecca Tyrrel: 'Gina Ford hasn't so much as a parking ticket to her name'


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The Independent Online

Who knew that Benjamin Spock, the first and perhaps greatest of the child-rearing gurus, won a gold medal for rowing at the Paris Olympics of 1924?

Dr Spock, whom quiz show contestants too often confuse with Star Trek's Mr Spock, despite his lack of pointy ears, green blood and the habit of saying "That's illogical, captain" to William Shatner, was quite the renaissance man of colic and weaning. Apart from that Olympic success as part of the American eight-man crew, and inventing an entire genre of parental advice, Spock was a distinguished political figure on America's liberal left. A fervent opponent of the Vietnam war, he was frequently arrested at anti-war rallies, and in 1968 was sentenced to two years in prison for conspiracy to abet resistance to the draft, though he never served a day and was later acquitted on appeal. Gina Ford, so far as we know, hasn't so much as a parking ticket to her name.

A friend and ally of Martin Luther King, Spock was a civil rights activist and anti-nuclear campaigner. He even ran for President for the People's Party, fighting for the legalisation of abortion, homosexuality and marijuana, narrowly failing to remove Nixon from the White House with an impressive 0.1 per cent of the national vote.

Yet it is as the only childcare expert ever to win Olympic gold that the man described as "a lanky pediatric Santa Claus" must be remembered this summer. Gina Ford's medal cabinet, it is worth recall, is entirely bare.

Spock is not the only doctor, however, to double as a famous rower. Hugh Laurie, Dr Gregory House in the TV medical drama House, rowed in Cambridge's losing Boat Race crew in 1980, and might have gone on to become an Olympian but for being forced to retire by glandular fever (or mononucleosis as House would have it). Hugh's father, Dr Ran Laurie, did emulate Spock by winning a rowing gold at the last London games of 1948 in the coxless pairs.

Dr Spock loved the water and lived mostly on boats until close to his death, when his own doctor instructed him to come permanently ashore. At 84, he rowed his dingy four miles in a race. He came third. It took him two and half hours. He died in 1998 at the age of 94, but the flame of his kindly, laid-back, follow-your-instincts counsel to generations of neurotic parents will, like the Olympic torch itself, never be extinguished.