Obituary: Dr Ran Laurie

Christopher Dodd
Saturday 10 October 1998 00:02 BST

THE OARSMAN Ran Laurie won a gold medal in the 1948 Olympics, with his colleague in the Sudan Political Service Jack Wilson. The coxless pair's achievement was the more remarkable in that they spent the years between winning the Silver Goblets at Henley Royal Regatta for the first time in 1938 and the second time 10 years later in the Sudan.

Their entry for Henley in 1948 was consolation for lost opportunities to compete in the cancelled Games of 1940 or 1944. An easy win gave them the nomination for the Olympics a month later.

Their Olympic title came after a much-needed training period on extra rations. The final was hard fought by the Swiss and the Italians on the three-lane course at Henley and was described by Laurie as "the best row we ever had". Laurie and Wilson were the best pair of their generation, and it was not until a young Steve Redgrave and Andy Holmes won the Olympics in 1988 that Britons once more excelled in this most difficult of boats to race.

Laurie and Wilson were known as the "Desert Rats" because of their sojourn in the Sudan. They rowed together in three winning Cambridge Blue boats. The 1934 crew set a Boat Race record, and in the same year Laurie stroked Leander Club to a record in the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley.

He was in Cambridge's stroke seat for the next two Boat Races, and while Wilson graduated to the Sudan Political Service Laurie stroked Britain's 1936 Olympic eight which finished fourth in Berlin. Laurie started his first career as a colonial servant soon afterwards, joining Wilson in the Sudan. He attributed the difference between first and fourth place at the Olympics to Wilson's absence from the crew.

During their time in the rowing wilderness Laurie and Wilson maintained chance contacts with their sport. On one occasion Laurie was on his rounds when he came upon a broken-down car in the desert. In it was Maurice von Opel, member of the German car-making family, Frau von Opel and Eric Phelps, their chauffeur. Phelps, a waterman who won the European professional sculling title, was also von Opel's sculling coach, and had been responsible for coaching Jack Beresford and Dick Southwood to a famous victory in the Olympic double sculls in Berlin, breaking the German team's run of gold medals to the chagrin of the spectating Chancellor Hitler. Laurie managed running repairs and gave the party the address of a refuge in Khartoum, where, of course, Wilson was to be found.

Laurie was born in Grantchester and educated at Monkton Combe and Selwyn College, Cambridge. After the Sudan he qualified as a doctor and practised as a GP in Oxford for 30 years. He was chairman of the Oxford Duke of Edinburgh's Award committee from 1959 to 1969 and of the Save the Children branch from 1986 to 1989. He was elected a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta in 1951, became a Henley umpire and sat on its management committee from 1975 to 1986.

In 1970 he fumbled a decision in the final of the Wyfold after two crews became locked together a few strokes from the line. The race was awarded to Trident after they paddled over the finish line before their opponents Thames Tradesmen on the umpire's instructions. Both crews were amazed and shocked by the result. As luck would have it they met again in the final of the Stewards' Challenge Cup next year, and the verdict was reversed. This incident was uncharacteristic of this modest, charming and gentle man.

He had two marriages, two daughters and two sons, one of whom, the comedian Hugh, followed his father as a rowing Blue for Cambridge in 1980.

The Desert Rats' boat is now on show at the new River and Rowing Museum at Henley, hanging above the boat which won the 1996 Olympics with Redgrave and Pinsent.

William George Ranald Mundell Laurie, oarsman and medical practitioner: born Grantchester, Cambridge- shire 4 June 1915; married 1944 Patricia Laidlaw (died 1989; two sons, two daughters), 1990 Mary Arbuthnot; died Hethersett, Norfolk 19 September 1998.

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