Gill Parker (née Webb)

Years 1975 World Championships (4+ 9th)
1976 Olympic Games (4+ 8th)
1979 World Championships (4+ 10th)
Club Stuart Ladies RC/Lea RC
Height 5’7″ or 170 cm
Racing weight 11 stone or 70 kg
Born 1956

Getting into rowing

Known widely in rowing circles as ‘Webby’, even though she changed her name when when married over 30 years ago, Gill decided to take up rowing when she was a teenager. She had often watched the rowing on the river Lea near where she lived and wanted to have a go, and she as keen to do something she could be the best at because although she was good at most sports at school, she wasn’t top at any of them.

She joined Stuart Ladies RC, where there was a group of about 12 girls at the time, and soon started winning. In 1972, aged 16, she stroked a junior four to success at Bedford Ladies regatta, and in 1973 she won Novice Sculls at Barnes and Mortlake regatta, Junior Sculls at Bedford Ladies, and again stroked her four to win the Women’s Junior event at the National Championships. Three of that crew went on to become senior internationals (Gill, Jean Guppy and cox Sue Bailey).

Stuart ladies JW4+ at the River Lea

Stuart Ladies RC junior four in 1973. From left: Ann Cochrane, Jean Guppy, Toni Cann, and Gill Webb. Their cox was Sue Bailey. (Photo: Gill Parker’s personal collection.)

In 1974 Gill was elected Captain at Stuart Ladies, and in her final year as a junior, notched up a large number of wins in eights, coxed fours and even a coxed pair.

She also finished second in the Senior Single Sculls on the first day Nottinghamshire International Regatta, less than a second behind former international Christine Davies and beating – just – Ann Cork who went on to be selected as the GB sculler at the World Championships that year. Gill also came fourth in the Senior Single Sculls at the National Championships. There was no junior event then.

On the back of these results she was selected to be the senior sculler (even though she was a junior) at the Home Countries match which she won. She was also offered the opportunity to go to the World Championships (the first which included women’s events) as spare woman to gain experience, but she turned the offer down, having already made plans to go on holiday with her friends.

International career

Full details of the Gill’s international representation at the 1975 and 1979 World Championships and 1976 Olympic Games can be found here:

1975 | 1976 | 1979

1976 GB WW4+ on the Tideway

Gill stroking the GB women’s four during training before the 1976 Olympics. (Photo © Syd Burke.)

Gill was second at the Scullers’ Head in 1975, the first year that included women, rowing in an aluminium boat (see photo at the top of this page) that had been lent to the squad by the manufacturer. It didn’t catch on.

After the 1976 Olympics in Montreal Gill had a year out of squad so that she could concentrate on her studies at PE college which had understandably been somewhat neglected. She continued to train at club level and won a silver medal at the National Championships in the pair with her 1975 and 1976 crewmate Clare Grove.

Nicky Zarach and Gill Webb

Gill (right) teaching young squad cox Nicky Zaeach about rigging on a cold day in early 1978. (Photo: British Rowing archive.)

In 1978 she trialled again for the GB squad and stroked the coxed four at a number of early season international regattas, but for various reasons the crew was not selected to go to the World Championships in New Zealand. She raced at Lucerne in a pair with Liz Paton, who was quite inexperienced at the time, and then then won a silver medal in the pair at the National Championships. Liz says she learned a huge amount from Gill during this period.

Gill Webb and Liz Paton

From left: Gill Webb and Liz McVeigh, silver medallists in the coxless pairs at the National Championships in 1978. (Photo: Gill Parker’s personal collection.)

Gill was also a member of the GB women’s squad in the 1980 season in the run-up to the Moscow Olympics, racing in the eight at the coxed four at Mannheim and Essen regattas.

After Essen, Gill was dropped from the squad, a decision that she firmly believes was not to do with her rowing ability because she considered that she had done well enough in all of the seat racing and other tests to get in, and when she challenged Women’s Squad Co-ordinator and Coach Dan Topolski about this, she remembers him telling her that one of the other coaches didn’t want to coach her and that he needed him more than he needed her.

Getting to training in 1979 and 1980 was particularly difficult for her as much of the water work was done at Thorpe Park, near Heathrow Airport west of London, but Gill was still living at home in the East End where she had started work as a PE teacher. “I used to ride a motorbike because it was cheap, but it’s a tiring way to travel and cold in the winter, so I would ride to East Sheen where Lin Clark lived and she’d give me a lift in her car,” she says, adding that at the weekends she “couch hopped” just to be able to get to training.

After 1980 she continued to row at Lea RC which had been formed in the autumn of that year when Stuart Ladies RC amalgamated with Crowland, Gladstone Warwick, City Orient and Britannia RCs which were men’s clubs based in the same location boathouse or nearby.

She did the women’s squad’s Easter assessment in 1983 in a Lea coxed four, and remembers beating the squad crew that was there, which she thinks was subsequently reconstituted. She also took part in the first trials for the 1984 Olympics but dropped out at Christmas as training in Putney every evening was impractical.

Overall, Gill greatly enjoyed her time as an international rower. “I loved the camaraderie because it was hard and we got stuck in together,” she explains..

Coaching career

Gill then became a successful coach, and in 1981 coached the GB women’s coxed four at the Junior World Championships with her friend and clubmate Barbara Kaye whose daughter was in the crew, and who had raced at the first Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1954.

Today, Gill coaches the Lea senior men, and is one of only a small number of women in charge of a high-performance club men’s squad. This was even more unusual in the eighties when she first stated coaching, and she wryly remembers an incident at Henley Royal Regatta while she was queuing to get into the umpire launch to follow her men’s eight’s race in the Thames Cup. “The umpire on the launch kept saying, ‘Where’s the coach for the Lea?’ even though I was right in front of him with my hand up,” she says. “He then looked at me and asked, ‘What does your husband think about you coaching men?’ to which she replied, ‘He’s in the boat.'” The conversation ended there.

Gill with Lea RC men.

Gill with some of the Lea men’s squad in 2016. (Photo: Gill Parker’s personal collection.)

Recent rowing

Gill has recently started rowing again and raced at the 2017 World Masters Rowing Championships at Lake Bled, the venue for the last World Championships at which she competed in 1979. Her crew also contained Pauline Peel, whom she’d raced with at the 1976 Olympics over 40 years earlier.

Clare Bayles, Gill Parker, Pauline Wright

Gill (centre) with her 1975 and 1976 crewmates Clare Bayles and cox and Pauline Wright at Henley Royal Regatta in 2017 following the memorial row-past for Beryl Mitchell which she organised.