Development & Alumni Relations Office 


Roy Gordon Nickels, BSc (died 13 February 2022, aged 86)


Obituary provided by Angus McKibbin, lifelong friend.


Your day was always going to be brighter having met "Big Nick” as his contemporaries knew him or "Big Roy” to later generations. That was certainly the case recently when my wife and I dropped in for lunch in the wonderful Wolverhampton family home of 44 years with its cosy clutter of family and travel memorabilia covering 56 years of happy marriage to Sheila who predeceased him in 2018.


Roy rowed in the Maiden VIII that made the famous tour of Ireland by vintage Rolls Royce in 1956. It belonged to Harvey Jackson and had allegedly served as a safari wagon in Kenya. It certainly needed a quick rework to compensate for the lack of an electrical charging or fuel system. The solutions involved rotating the battery through another car and installing a primitive gravity feed from cans strapped to the roof. Roy’s vintage slide show account was a special treat at many rowing dinners in the years thereafter.


He rowed in the Junior VIII in 1957 and was in the Ulster VIII which competed in an InterPro Regatta in Dublin later that year. He continued in the Senior boat up to the Wylie Cup regatta at the end of spring term 1958 ensuring the award of Senior colours before his term as President of the Queen’s Mountaineering Club consumed most of his spare time.


Roy was a serious rock climber and mountaineer so for many years (encouraged by him and Peter Wilson), many ex-oarsmen have been meeting twice a year in the Lake District.


Roy and Sheila moved to England in the early Sixties and he was to become an industry acclaimed expert in glass furnaces. There are not many glass manufacturers on the five continents who do not have equipment fabricated and installed under his direction.


However, his support for Queen’s Rowing never dimmed and he and others provided a warm welcome to the crews that made the often daunting trip to English regattas in the Sixties - particularly Henley Royal Regatta.


Roy and others from Fifties rowing instigated many picnics, barbecues, dinners and singsongs in the Henley Cricket Club car park and the nearby Flowerpot Hotel. He was born on the fourth of July so it was hard to escape his birthday party at some point during the Regatta!


Roy was the main driving force behind Lady Victoria, London, formed in 1969. As a group they met in the Flowerpot every month and provided a useful conduit between Queen’s Rowing and the Tideway and Upper Thames Clubs. A letter from Lady Victoria Boat Club in Belfast informed them that just meeting in a pub was okay but that potentially a separate section would not be countenanced. This led a couple of years later to the group arriving unexpectedly at the AGM of the club in Dublin to change the LVBC constitution from ‘exclusive’ to the inclusive club that it hopefully remains to this day.


In the 1970s, Roy, Sheila and their two sons lived in Sunbury-on-Thames. In 1973, by sheer chance, I bought a house in the same small development. I had rowed for Queen’s between 1964 and 1967 and had been introduced to Roy only once at a Flowerpot meeting. I was very quickly swept into the Big Roy social whirl in Sunbury and shortly afterwards found myself responsible for the Henley picnic. This was only made possible with the additional assistance of Bob and Connie Swann. Bob had rowed with Roy and was later in the Northern Ireland 1958 Empire Games crew. Two notable years followed, in 1976 Queen’s reached the final of the Ladies’ Plate followed by 1977 when Queen’s Ladies competed at Weybridge Regatta allowing us to provide accommodation and hospitality a short distance downstream in Sunbury.


Both couples moved to the West Midlands in the late Seventies which made the logistics of providing support for Queens Rowing just a bit more difficult. A certain generation of Queen’s rowers will appreciate how he enhanced their Henley Royal Regatta experience while others may have just heard the stories.


Roy and Sheila were a major presence in my life for 50 years, witnesses at our wedding and godparents to Matt McKibbin who was Queen’s Men’s Vice Captain 2012/13. They will be greatly missed by our family.


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