Obituary- Spencer Grace, OAM

Date: 23/10/99

Olympic rower, 1907-1999

The last time Spencer Grace rowed on his beloved Lane Cove River was just three weeks before his death - at the age of 92. A businessman and sportsman, Grace represented Australia at the 1948 London Olympics. His partner then was Ted Bromley of Palm Beach and the duo, dubbed "the gruesome twosome", still rowed together well into the 1990s.

Frederick Spencer Grace was born in Mosman, his Sydney schooling interrupted by World War I when his father was sent to Melbourne as chairman of the Interstate Shipping Commission (he died in 1919 in the global Spanish flu epidemic).

On the family's return to Sydney, Grace finished his schooling at Mowbray House and North Sydney Boys' where his love affair with sport really began.

While studying accountancy, he became captain of his local tennis and swimming clubs; practice for the latter included diving from the old Roseville Bridge and racing the sharks to the Roseville Baths (where, years later, his sons learned to swim).

Work, too, was going well; at 19, he came sixth in NSW in his accountancy exams, waited two years for admission to the Institute of Accountants, and worked with some of the city's larger practices.

A keen motorcycle racer, he sought a competitive edge by machining parts for his bikes, which served to whet his appetite for engineering. As the Depression bit, he launched, with Roy Burns, Spencer Grace & Co at 175 Pitt Street, a branch of which specialised in a then growth market - motor trade debt collections.

It was about then that he discovered rowing. It was a winter's evening, already dark, when he arrived at the deserted North Shore Rowing Club in Neutral Bay. He paid his dues to the caretaker, against whose wishes he then took one of the club's skiffs, a narrow vessel, not for beginners.

Never having rowed before, he struck out into the busy harbour on a course which brought him into dispute with one of the many ferries (completion of the Harbour Bridge was still two years distant). A collision was avoided but Grace capsized; a passing Italian fisherman returned him, with skiff, to Neutral Bay.

By 1934 he had become captain of the club and would remain in that position until the outbreak of World War II. Those were its golden years, with the unique double in 1938 of the State championship eights and the State premiership pennant.

On the professional front, he'd sold out of private practice and become company accountant with Automatic Totalisators Ltd. He would swiftly become ATL's general manager, putting his meteoric rise down to having become "repulsively organised and pedantic".

In 1935 he married Daphne de Bovis; they honeymooned at Charlotte Pass and he joined the Kosciusko Alpine Club and became a member of the NSW ski team. He was nominated for the skiing and rowing teams for the 1940 Olympics, suspended for the war. In 1939, he rowed in an Australian eight at the centenary Henley regatta, he and his wife learning of the outbreak of war as they steamed home to Australia from England.

He tried to enlist in the RAAF but ATL had been declared essential to armaments production; under Grace's direction it would produce parts for all manner of weapons from howitzers to Mosquito fighter-bombers.

With the war over, ATL returned to making tote machines; Grace became managing director and with his war experience and study at Sydney Technical College (now the University of Technology, Sydney) was admitted to the Institute of Production Engineers and the Australian Institute of Management. There was constant air travel as ATL built markets in India, Africa, the Middle East, North and South America, Europe and Britain.

The pinnacle of his sporting success came in 1948 with the London Olympics, with Bromley in the coxless pairs. Though he didn't compete at the 1952 Olympics, he played a key role in the success of the Australian eight, most of whom would be the honour guard at his funeral.

After the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Grace retired from ATL but not from work, setting up marketing firms in the US and working with a scrap-iron and foundry firm at home.

He retired again in 1985 but not from rowing; when 78, he rowed in the first World Masters' Games in Toronto, winning silver and bronze medals. At 84 he competed in the third Australian Masters' Games in 1991 and won two gold and a bronze. He outdid himself in the World Masters' Games in Brisbane in 1994; then 88, he won two gold, three silver and two bronze medals.

Grace is survived by his first wife and their two sons, and by his widow, Eileen, formerly of New York.

- Philip Grace

from the Sydney Morning Herald.  


Obituary for Ted Bromley

Spencer and Ted Bromley


click arrows to change photo