Tony Hart was an outstanding gentleman.
Keen on the law, especially the laws of the Medes and Persians.
His greatest love, after his wife Mary and family, was the sport of rowing, which he enjoyed throughout his life.
My first encounter with Tony was in 1974, when I had to appear in court, hoping to be granted a liquor license for the glorious discotheques that were held in the boat club in those days.
In trepidation, I entered the courts, dressed smartly, probably wearing a boat club tie; every little helps.
“Queen’s University Boat Club would like a liquor license,” said a clerk.
Tony looked at me across his half-moon spectacles, and said one word: “Granted.” I exhaled slowly, stepped out of the court with a glorious piece of paper bound for Lockview Road.
Tony coached the novices for many years, with his head tilted sideways as he cycled along the riverbank.
Deep in analysis of our lowing style and rigour.
“Don’t do that; do it this way; may I suggest the following.”
“If you just listen to me, the laws of rowing are as old as the laws of the Medes and the Persians.”
According to the law, decreed by King Darius the Great (550-486 BC), any laws or proclamations that are made cannot be replaced. Once the law is written, the law stands. Thus when Tony demanded an active transmission catch, or a fine draw of the hands of the finish — to make the boat go faster — he would accept no alternative styles or shortcuts. hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, and flow of rowing require certain principles to be applied perfectly to assure victory.
When I was captain in 1977, Tony agreed to be the club’s Senior coach. We spent many hours discussing the ins and outs of making a boat go faster. He was thoughtful, deep, and I don’t think that he ever raised his voice in anger.
We all know that Tony, or Sir Antony Hart, headed up the historical institutional abuse inquiry.
This tough, challenging, difficult work was a prodigy of organisation skills, forensic ability and, indispensably, of human sympathy that helped towards healing the manifestly inhuman treatment that was so painfully recounted in that inquiry room day by day. Although the inquiry exposed some very dark events, Tony told me that he had met some glorious people determined to do their best for children and teenagers, to create light in the darkness.
Tony had a wonderfully analytical mind. If he wasn’t watching us rowing, I know that he was reading the great coaching and technique books of rowing greats.
From County Fermanagh, Tony attended Portora Royal School, before going on to read law at Trinity College. As explained in the Belfast Telegraph, Tony was the son of a country veterinarian. He was very willing to give advice to those in need in Fermanagh. From time to time, even the Bishop sought his counsel. Tony sang in church choir, and according to the Bishop, John McDowell, Tony had “beautiful manners” and was a “Christian gentleman”.
Rowing was his passion. He supported the boats of his former school throughout his life.
He was president of Portora Rowing Club and took great pride in that role.
He was hugely delighted when he had an Eight named after him.
If you wanted to see Tony in his natural habitat and in the fullness of his natural personality, then all you had to do was to watch him at the Erne Head as a Portora or an Enniskillen Royal Grammar School (ERGS) boat pulled away of a Colerain Inst. Eight.
Tony was a Trinity man, a Lady Elizabeth member. He rowed at Queen’s and for Lady Victoria Boat Club, where he also coached and supported, turning out in his bright red waterproofs, through thick and thin.
Hard working, gentle, subtly amusing — often in Latin — Tony loved the riverbank, loved rowing, and although he would never tell you, he probably loved us as well.