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Rob van Mesdag


The following tribute was published in The Times 25 August 2018, 12:01

Lifelong rower who took a bronze medal

Last month Rob van Mesdag, aged 88, wearing a singlet and shorts, and ready to take his single scull out on the Thames, declared: “Rowing is the best thing in the world.”

He spoke with conviction: in 1952 Van Mesdag had rowed for the Dutch team in the Helsinki Olympics. Three years later, he won a bronze medal in the European Championships.

Born in 1930 in Hilversum, the Netherlands, Robbert was the youngest of four brothers. The eldest, Jaap, was one of 32 Dutchmen who in 1941 tried to reach England by kayak to join up. A second brother died flying for the RAF.

After spending the war in the Netherlands, Van Mesdag finished his schooling in Delaware, in the US, and rowed for his school, St Andrew’s. Last year he sponsored the school’s team at the Henley Regatta. He followed his third brother, Maarten, to Trinity College Dublin in the 1940s and, after graduation, worked for the family business, Van Houten Chocolate, until it was sold in 1962 to WR Grace. He became a freelance correspondent for Dutch and English newspapers, specialising in reporting on rowing and sailing.

Moving to London in the 1960s, Van Mesdag proved a loyal member of and popular after-dinner speaker at the London Rowing Club. Although extremely generous to charity and friends, he delighted in frugality, wrapping his Christmas presents in newspaper. He spoke impeccable English, wore tweed, and lived in Fulham with his dear, long-term companion, Michaele Wellington-Hall. They attended All Saints Church, Fulham.

He died after becoming ill while preparing to be photographed by Dutch documentary-makers in his scull, Oranje Boven. Twenty-four hours earlier, Van Mesdag had said: “This boat was made of wood for me in 1953 in Holland. It may get older than I do.”