Tribute: James “Dusty” ANDERSON (1935-2019)

Dusty Anderson died on Monday, 25 March 2019, at the age of 83. With his passing, Irish rowing and in particular, Belfast rowing, lost one of its greatest characters. And I lost a friend of some 65 years.

Dusty was a product of Coleraine Academical Institution, learning to row at the school. In 1954, he came up to Queen’s to read Economics and joined the boat club. In 1955, when I met him, he stroked the Junior VIII (now Intermediate). I have a photograph of him at Athlone Regatta, and in the 7 seat behind him is Peter Rice of engineering fame. This was part of the decade that saw considerable success for Queen’s. Between 1952 and 1962, the club won 12 Irish championships and 5 Wylie Cups on the trot, the latter being a record equalled but not yet surpassed.

Dusty ANDERSON (Stroke seat) and Peter RICE (7 seat). Junior VIII crew, Athlone Regatta. About 1956. Source: Ivan NELSON (QUBBC).

In 1956, Dusty stroked the Senior VIII that won the Senior Championship of Ireland. This was a strong, powerful crew, possibly the best Queen’s crew of all time. The captain that year was the late I.C. Henderson, a man of few words and great determination. In 1956, Dusty was elected captain of the club and stroked the Senior VIII again. This crew was very fast, but lacked power in the final stages of the race. I was in the 7 seat behind Dusty. Nevertheless, 1956-7 was the most successful year in the history of Queen’s. In particular, his year of office was notable for the second Senior VIII winning the Senior championship again, thus frustrating the efforts of the IARU to shoe in the Garda. Dusty’s opinion of rowing at Queen’s at this time is to be found in the chapter that he wrote for the club’s history.

Stories of 1957 are legion, but it is little known that it was the year in which Queen’s got to their very first Henley final. Now, before you get too excited, it was the final of the spare Men’s Pairs. The crew was Kevin McLaverty and Paddy Holmes of Portora. They were beaten in the final by two giants from the Cornell Grand crew. In one of the heats, Dusty (heavily disguised) took Paddy’s place, as Paddy had an interview at Cambridge. Kevin and his younger brother Colm had a great fascination for Dusty that lasted all their lives, and both of us attended their funerals. Kevin was the only Queen’s man to scull in the Diamonds until recently, and he represented Ireland in the Finn class at the Tokyo Olympics.

Dusty joined the civil service and continued to row and coach for the rest of his life. He was instrumental in starting Veteran rowing at Belfast Rowing Club and ran the veterans’ outings for many years thereafter. He organised their entries at events all over Ireland and Great Britain. He not only organised outings three times a week, but also long distance rows for charity — down the Shannon, the Erne, Bann, Foyle, as well as through the Shannon-Erne Waterway just before its official opening. He also organised Belfast Rowing Club’s trip to Boston for the Head of the Charles in 1994. He sculled across the North Channel to Portpatrick, and he took part in the very first Erne Head of the River in 1957.

Whatever his skill with an oar, his wonderful rhythm as a stroke, or his organising ability, he was nevertheless a very private person. He had a knowledgeable and great love of opera and Italy. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of boat club songs and a good tenor voice to sing them. This was coupled with a great sense of humour. Dusty had a strong opinion, often disguised, but he was unafraid to voice it if he thought it necessary — as when he publicly corrected a senior civil servant who was making a factually incorrect speech at a rowing dinner.

Not only was Dusty responsible for so much in Belfast rowing, he had a long stint as president of Lagan Scullers Club, a club dear to his heart and probably his favourite. He was well aware of the benefits of sculling in the development of oarsmen and women. He had been vice president of Belfast Rowing Club and was a former captain of Lady Victoria Boat Club. He was a Fairbairnite, if you know what that was! He was a conciliator, and his history of the club from 1952 to 1962 is non controversial, but he did have some strong opinions — he thought that Lady Victoria had a tendency to try to run the student club; he thought that it is a student club and must be run by the student members, with advice and help from LVBC. And he was at a loss to understand why the club declined so drastically after the 1970s.

It would be hard to find a more loyal, humourous, logical person than Dusty Anderson. He was a leader and a dear friend. We exchanged birthday cards for many years; he would have been 84 on 3rd November. But whatever he was, he was supported by his loving wife, Roz; she was the rock that gave him the strength to do all the things he did. They loved each other dearly, and our sympathies lie with her on Dusty’s passing.

Newspaper clipping: Queen’s win six out of seven events in Dublin. Source: Ivan NELSON (QUBBC).
Newspaper clipping: Queens ruled Liffey in Trinity Regatta. Source: Ivan NELSON (QUBBC).
Newspaper clipping: Queen’s crews sweep the decks. Source: Ivan NELSON (QUBBC).

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