SEVENTY years after his last great race, people still remember Theo Dubois.
He never had kids, he lived with his mother until she died at 102 and his single greatest love wasn’t a social club with lots of members. It was the lonely sport of rowing.
But he was so good at it that when he died on June 10, Dubois’ friends called to announce his passing, three weeks after his 100th birthday.
“Theo was quite a personality. Right across Canada, people have been affected by him, through rowing. In Saskatoon, in Regina, in Calgary, Canmore, Victoria, down east and in St. Catharines,” MacKay said.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Dubois’ grit was near legendary; a biography written by Winnipeg writer John Wintrop called him “The last of the Golden Age scullers.”
Publicist RoseAnna Schick says the Winnipeg Rowing Club still refers to Dubois as “The Boss.”
Dubois won four gold medals in the regional regatta in 1934. By 1939, he’d picked up five consecutive singles championships.
Perhaps the most outstanding award Dubois received during his career was the Lou Marsh Trophy, as Canada’s Athlete of the Year, in 1941. Dubois was the first Canadian west of Ontario to get the honour.
He twice qualified for the Olympics but never competed; the outbreak of the Second World War cancelled the Games in 1940 and 1944. In 1948, Canada’s Olympic team passed him over. He was 37.
He raced some of the greats and some of the famous, including Jack Kelly, brother to Grace Kelly, the Hollywood star who married Prince Rainier of Monaco.
There’s a photograph of Dubois and Kelly shaking hands on the dock at Vespers, the Kellys’ country club in Philadelphia, and it’s held a place of honour for decades at the Winnipeg Rowing Club.
The photo marked the Vespers centenary and now with Dubois’ death, the famous picture will likely be bequeathed to the Vespers honour wall.
Rowing was called sculls at the time and it was a rich man’s sport. But Dubois was not a rich man — his parents were immigrants who worked with their hands. His mother was a dressmaker and his father, a carpenter.
When he was 14, his mother asked a wealthy client whose husband rowed at the Winnipeg Rowing Club if young Theo could join.
“She wanted him to stay off the streets of Winnipeg and that’s why he got into rowing,” MacKay said.
He was also an accomplished cyclist who won the annual Winnipeg-to-Winnipeg Beach race a record three times, 50 miles with 12 miles pavement and 38 miles gravel, setting a speed record of one hour thirty eight minutes; and in 1933 twice defeating American Cycling Champion Adolph Velthuysen in the Detroit Velodrome. In 1981 Theo was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
Final wish, no service. Recognition given on June 22, 2011, 10:00 A.M at the Winnipeg Rowing Club at 20 Lyndale Drive.