A Legend Remembered: The rowing world says goodbye to Stan Pocock.

The birth of Stanley Richard Pocock on Oct. 11, 1923 was one of the most important moments in American rowing history. To say that Pocock was born into rowing may be something of a cliché, but it is undeniably true. Son of Pocock Racing Shells founder George Pocock, Stanley apprenticed under his father, and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in engineering, rowing for the Huskies and later coaching Washington frosh crews from 1948 to 1955—among the most successful eras in the storied program. Pocock passed away in December at 91.
From an early age, he was surrounded by some of the most influential coaches and craftsmen in rowing. In the words of 1964 Olympic champion Kent Mitchell, “[Stan] was exposed to all the great men who came to UW and then went out like tentacles after rowing here and established coaching positions all over the country: Ky Ebright at Cal, Al Ulbrickson at UW, Rusty Callow at Penn and Navy, Norm Sonju at Wisconsin, Loren Shoel at Syracuse, Dutch Schoch at Princeton, Stork Sanford at Cornell, Vic Michaelson at Brown, Carl Lovested at Harvard, Bud Raney at Columbia, and Bob Moch at MIT. Stan grew up in the presence, the shadows, and the influence of all of these people, whom he knew so well.” And, more importantly, he took it all in—his attention to detail, care, and craftsmanship were second to none.
At a memorial service in Seattle recently, Mitchell recalled a story about Pocock. While coaching Dan Ayrault, Conn Findlay, and Kurt Seiffert in the men’s coxed pair prior to the 1956 Olympic trials, Pocock was questioned by Ayrault. “Dan turned to Stan and said, ‘You know, Stan, you’re the fifth rowing coach I’ve had. Each tells me something different. I’m not sure what I should be doing.’ Stan just looked at him and said, ‘Dan, put your mind at ease. All you have to do is forget what all the other coaches have said to you. Listen to me and accept what I teach. If you’re not willing to do this, we can forget the whole thing. It is up to you.’”
Ayrault decided to accept what Pocock had to say. He went on to win two Olympic gold medals. In fact, of the eight Olympic crews that Pocock would coach, four won gold, two won bronze medals, and seven of the eight made the Olympic final. No other USRowing coach has ever come close to achieving that level of success at the Olympic Games. Yet despite this, Pocock joked that when he was inducted into the rowing hall of fame in 1979 it must have been a slow year.
“He was a multi-faceted guy,” recalls Washington head women’s coach Bob Ernst. “Duvall Hecht [1956 Olympic champion in the men’s pair] was my coach at [University of California] Irvine. Both [he and Conn Findlay] just held Stan Pocock, and of course George, but Stan because he had been their coach, in the highest regard. He was like a deity.”
Ernst continues: “The thing that was always magical to me about the way these guys talked about Stan Pocock, was, well, the all-star game is making it to the Olympics and winning a gold medal—this man helped them achieve their ultimate dreams in our sport. They really loved him.”
“The Pocock family was so dear to my dad—George really was like a second father to him,” says John P. Tytus (the ‘P’ is for Pocock). George coached John’s father, Bill, and Stan would often accompany them on the water. It was a bond that eventually led to Bill Tytus taking over Pocock Racing Shells when Stan decided to retire. But that didn’t mean Stan wanted to be far from the shop.
John Tytus remembers Stan’s enthusiasm when coming by for a visit: “Our offices here at the shop are upstairs on the mezzanine, and all the boats are being built downstairs. He was good friends with my dad, and I wanted to see him, but every time, he would make a beeline for the shop floor—he wanted to go talk to the guys [building the boats].” What can you say? It was in his blood.
“When I was new to rowing in 1950—when I went out for crew at Stanford—the only boats that were rowed in the United States were Pococks,” Duvall Hecht recalls. “Some people on the East Coast would import European boats, but they just couldn’t compare.” Hecht competed at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, and afterward traveled around Europe. The rowing community being what it is, local rowers welcomed Hecht when he visited Switzerland, and joined them for a training session. Needless to say, the equipment underwhelmed Hecht. “It stuck out to me what a marvelous advantage we had being able to row Pocock boats.”
But Stan always kept things in perspective. Years later, Stan visited Hecht down at U.C. Irvine, where Hecht had started the school’s rowing program. “At this time, everybody was debating the merits of Filippis, Empachers, Vespolis, and Pococks—you’d always have somebody who was a passionate defender of one kind of boat—and this terrible emphasis on rigging, rigging, rigging. Stanley said, ‘Tell your guys that the only purpose of a boat is to keep the oarsmen’s pants dry.’ That was so typically Stanley. He wasn’t going to brag about how his equipment was better—essentially, it’s what the oarsmen do with the boat that counts.” Bryan Kitch

About Connor Walters 12 Articles
Connor is a freelance writer and Web journalist, specializing in the sport of rowing. He has been published in Rowing Magazine, Discover Magazine and a number of online outlets. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Connor received his master's in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School in 2014. In 2013, he graduated from Marietta College with a bachelor's in journalism.

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