Passing of Geoff Sawyer & Derek Ross

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Geoff "Scoop" Sawyer
Derek "Del the Stitch" Ross

I am deeply sorry to have to report that we have lost two very long standing members in the past couple of days.

Geoff Sawyer, afffectionately known as “Scoop” to generations of club members, died peacefully on Monday afternoon at home.   He had suffered considerably from heart conditions in the past few years, but did not allow this minor irritation to prevent him from reporting on the 1st XV league matches, Zimmer-frame and all, until very very recently.   Geoff first played for the club in the late sixties and, to my memory at least, I can’t think of anyone else who ever was press secretary.   Geoff was admitted to hospital where he unfortunately contracted Covid, was sent home to recuperate, but sadly didn’t.   He was 69.

Yesterday we received the following desperately sad news that Derek Ross had passed away peacefully at a nursing home in Westcliff.   Derek was in the advanced stages of dementia  and had been in the home since last Autumn.    “Del the stitch” was a colourful stalwart of the club for over thirty years, a member of the irrepressible B XV of the late seventies and early eighties, and a major force within what we used to know as “The new clubhouse” in Aviation Way, where he gravitated from Squash Secretary, to House Committee Chairman and then ultimately to Club Chairman in the nineties, a role which he held for several years at a time when the club’s fortunes were fraught.   Derek can take a lot of credit for the rescue act which followed, and which led us to the state of strength which we know today.

It is impossible to overestimate the contribution which these two guys made to our community club, and our sympathies go out to their nearest and dearest.   As soon as funeral arrangements are known, they will be shared.

by Nick Crowe

Being a great hoarder of such memorabilia, I have unearthed a fixture card of the Old Westcliffians RFC for the 1971-72 season which shows that Geoff Sawyer was, even then, the Hon. Publicity Officer. Since he still held that post deep into this century, it means that he was almost indisputably the longest serving continuous member of the Club’s committees in its entire history, possibly for as many as 40 years. I played numerous rugby matches with Geoff in the lower echelons of the Club over many seasons and also a few cricket matches during the summer months. For many years I served on the same committees with him and, as Secretary, I don’t recall ever having to record any apologies for absence from him. His total commitment to the Club was unwavering but, because he managed to keep such a low profile, I felt that he seldom received the recognition which he truly deserved: why he was never made a Life Member still astonishes me. Couldn’t this honour still be accorded posthumously?

We also both served for many years on the committee of the Easter Rugby Festival held jointly with Southend RFC from 1951 to 1980. Geoff was both Publicity Officer and Fixture Secretary and contributed hugely to the great success of these shindigs by encouraging sides from distant counties of Britain to participate. There’s a quote that says “If you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t really there”: the same could equally be said about the Bacchanalian orgies known as Rugby Festivals!

If the Club had remained available only to Old Westcliffians, we would never have had the rich pleasure of welcoming the likes of Derek Ross – what a character! Having spent a few seasons playing for Southend, he made the sensible decision to defect to Westcliff to which he contributed massively as has already been described in earlier tributes. Derek and I spent a great deal of time in each other’s company and played in the same side for several years. We also played golf at Ballards Gore and he was a very useful squash player. I was even worse at squash than at any other sport so when he suggested that we have a game at Courtlands Club in Thorpe Bay, I was more than a little apprehensive. Sure enough, as I hurtled around the court perspiring profusely he calmly stood by the “T” from where, on the rare occasions that I retrieved the ball, he would immediately despatch it to another inaccessible corner of the court. Inevitably, he beat me so soundly that I felt somewhat embarrassed. I was sweating uncontrollably while Derek was still so unruffled that he hardly even needed a shower and I apologised for not giving him a proper game. Fiercely competitive as he was, Derek replied with a broad smile “No need to apologise, Dick, a win’s a win and I just love winning – let’s have some beer!”

Up until last May, I occasionally met Derek in Belfairs when walking our dogs and he was clearly not his old self. As it happened, it was I who introduced Derek to Jill at the Gables in the 1980s and, a few years later, they married. She tells me that Derek went into a home in October, was hardly eating anything and declined very rapidly.

Geoff Sawyer and Derek Ross both made colossal contributions to the Club in vastly different ways: one a larger-than-life character and the other a quiet, reserved and self-effacing fellow. They will be greatly missed, not only by Westcliff Rugby Club but also by me personally.

by Dick Davies