bw photo of women in college scarves

How talking about rowing at work led me to Mary McLeannan’s rowing story

A few weeks ago, a former colleague (whom, to be fair, I didn’t know particularly well, but had obviously been unable to avoid hearing about my ‘interest’ in rowing) contacted me to let me know that his dad, who sells memorabilia on ebay, had acquired some old rowing photos that I might be interested in.

These turned out (after a little cross-referencing with other photos of the era, because nobody puts their own name on the front of their photo album, and she used ‘self’ in the captions of pictures she was in) to have belonged to Mary McLeannan, who rowed in the England eight at the first Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1954.

Mary had remained single all her life and whether because she had no surviving relatives, or for other reasons, a house clearance professional bought the contents of her home after she died in June this year, and passed the memorabilia within it to the father of my ex-colleague. I acquired the rowing photos from him, which have allowed me to piece together Mary’s journey as a rower from her first strokes at University College, London in the autumn of 1951 to representing her country less than three years later.

He also kindly let me have various other documents from her archive which helped to reveal a little of her other interests (travel, particularly) and what she did next. I’m quite certain she would have been full of facinating tales, of her travels in Europe, later life in North America, and work in reseach on women in management, and I hope that others heard and enjoyed these, even though I never did. It’s been a priviledge to be able to document Mary’s rowing story and add another piece to the jigsaw picture of the history of GB women’s international rowing.

Read her story here >>

P.S. And keep talking about rowing at wherever you go – you never know who’s listening and where it will lead, even years later! The benefits definitely outweigh any potential boredom suffered by others.

The photo at the top of this page of the University College and Hospital Women’s Boat Club taken just before Christmas 1951 includes Mary in the front row on the far left, and is copyright The Sport and Central Press Agency Ltd.

© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2019.

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