A memory from Kent Mitchell and Ed Ferry, Conn’s partners in the 1964 Olympic Gold Medal Coxed Pair
See also our note, which contains two extensive book chapters on Conn by Peter Mallory.
Conn won four Olympic medals in two different sports, rowing and sailing, over a 20-year period from 1956 to 1976, though he would never be learned from him because of his extreme humility.
Despite his bachelor’s degree from USC and his MBA from Cal, Conn rowed the couple in a helmsman’s boat filled with Stanford alums in three consecutive Olympics with different partners. Gold in Australia in 1956 with Dan Ayrault and Kurt Seiffert, bronze in Rome in 1960 with Dick Draeger and Kent Mitchell and gold in 1964 in Tokyo with Ed Ferry and Kent as his last rowing partners.
In 1976 he sailed with Dennis Conner in the Tempest class in Montreal and won another bronze medal in his second sport. His second sport was with two wins at the America’s Cup races in 1974 and 1978 with Ted Turner at the helm of the yacht Courageous and the big boat ocean race at the well-known Fast Net race, the Mediterranean series off Sardinia, the Transpac and Bermuda races, continued. and in the treacherous South Seas from Sydney to Hobart.
Conn has received all of the available awards: US Rowing and US Sailing, Stanford and USC inducted into the Athletic Halls of Fame; named one of America’s 100 Greatest Living Athletes by Xerox during the Atlanta Olympics; named to the 25-man all-century rowing team of the Pac-12 conference. The greatest award of all is much less tangible, but much more lasting, the universal recognition, love and appreciation of his friends for Conn.
Conn was a fearless task master who planned his workouts and races:
Ed: “I recently asked him what his favorite rowing workout is. He said:”None“But I know it rowed non-stop from Redwood City to under the Golden Gate Bridge, over 30 miles, over three hours. No drinking water, no life jackets, no hunting boat. And Kent, our helmsman, in his lie in the lower position , admitted that he fell asleep. ”
Kent: “Conn was always racing from behind, chasing the leaders and rowing them down to the finish line. Although the competitors knew this and feared his attacks at the finish line, Conn once told me:”I never reached halftime in a race without serious doubts that I could finish.‘”
Ed and Kent were Conn’s rowing partners from 1961 until he retired after the Tokyo Olympics. The bonds they formed then have only strengthened since then. Until the end, all three lived nearby, visited, talked and shared the ups and downs of their lives with each other and supported each other at every opportunity.
Tokyo 1964 Final – Conn Findlay and Ed Ferry of the USA 2+ overtake the Soviets by 200 meters to take the gold
Generous with his time, always helpful, Conn was always polite, humble and cared for others:
Ed: When I was building my first home in Seattle, he came to donate six weeks of his time and skill to design the home from inception to the top. He would only accept lunch as compensation.
Kent: When my wife and I lost our daughter 10 years ago, Conn was there straight away, mourning and comforting us at the same time.
Conn could also be stubborn:
Ed: “Go coast to coast for nationals or exams with a boat in the lead, with no stops for the night or food; only graham crackers and apples are already in the car.”
Kent: In 1964 we made Conn promise he would stop for dinner on the way to Nationals. Towards evening we saw a restaurant behind a fence in Wyoming off the freeway. Ed said: “Let’s stop and eat.“Conn stopped the car at the shoulder of the freeway. He wouldn’t get out of the car. Just said ‘I agreed to stop for dinner, not to eat. ‘. Ed and I climbed the fence, ate at the restaurant, then returned to the car where Conn was eating crackers. ”
Conn’s greatness as an athlete and as a friend was his complete independence. He was a self starter and a self finisher … never asked anyone for help … did it himself … his way. He turned down offers of help from others, even when he needed it most. Conn’s lifelong confidence and expectations of himself unfortunately became a source of fear and frustration for him in his final years.
Conn was blessed with his marriage to Luella Anderson Findlay, both their first marriage and each then in their early 60s. Luella passed away two years ago, but they used their time together wisely: they traveled the world, rode King George IV’s Windrush, which they had bought and restored, and chatted with the multitude of their sailing, rowing and and other lifelong friends.
Conn Francis Findlay is the most remarkable man we have ever known.
Ed Ferry, Mill Valley, California
Kent Mitchell, Portola Valley, California
Throw Kent Mitchell in the water after winning gold