Weekend Witness - - News - CLIVE LAWRANCE

I AM star­ing at an empty com­puter screen, my mind swirling with mem­o­ries of Graeme Pope-El­lis, and frankly I am feel­ing very emo­tional.

It is over 20 years since I spent a packed seven months talk­ing to Graeme, mak­ing notes, go­ing over rough drafts, pol­ish­ing words be­fore a loom­ing dead­line, the next Dusi Ca­noe Marathon.

Many peo­ple knew Graeme as a man at a deeper level than I did; and many pad­dlers un­der­stood his ca­noe­ing prow­ess bet­ter than I did. So what can I say about him? He said some­thing to his first win­ning part­ner, Eric Clarke, that has given me courage to face dif­fi­cul­ties. He said: “We have got to shoot Tops Nee­dle”.

Vet­eran pad­dlers will know ex­actly what this short phrase meant in 1972.

No one had ever shot Tops Nee­dle in a race. It was far too risky. It was a rapid that chewed up boats. But Pope-El­lis and Clarke were four min­utes be­hind the lead­ers at the start of the fi­nal leg.

So they shot it, and it made all the dif­fer- ence. They won their first Dusi.

An­other thing I re­mem­ber about Graeme: we were driv­ing around the Val­ley of a Thou­sand Hills look­ing at var­i­ous key places when a young lo­cal stopped to talk to us. He looked at me for a long moment, not­ing the grey in my beard, then said, “This man is too old to race with you”. Hardly paus­ing, Graeme replied, “No, he is very strong.”

I know that I would not have been so kind. I wish I had put that in the book I wrote about Pope-El­lis.

But I did in­di­cate that he had a great af­fec­tion and re­spect for the peo­ple of the val­ley.

An­other me­mory: Graeme sev­eral times said: “You should also write about the fish-and-chips pad­dlers; with­out them there would be no race.”

But I was a jour­nal­ist and to me Graeme was the story.

As an ath­lete, Graeme Pope-El­lis was awe­some in the true sense of that word; as a man, I’m sure he had faults, but I never saw them; I found him hum­ble and kind.

The King is dead. And there will be no suc­ces­sor to the throne.

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