MATTHEW OWEN: 1969 - 2018
“Matt Owen ….is a great Canberran. He is both a champion yachtsman and a great supporter of underprivileged kids and people with disabilities”. Those words were used by local politician, Jeremy Hanson, in a speech in the ACT Legislative Assembly on May 10, 2018 to acknowledge Matt’s contribution to the ACT community on behalf of the ACT Assembly, the sailing community and the hundreds of underprivileged kids he has helped. The Owen and Hanson families are great friends and Matt and Jeremy were boot camp colleagues.
Matt Owen died on October 7, just short of his 49th birthday. He was told in late 2014 that he might have only six months to live after being diagnosed with cancer of the gall bladder and a secondary cancer in the liver. He knew the prognosis was far from good but said at the time that he was not the stereotypical person who has cancer, a 65 year old. "I am fit (and devilishly good looking) and have an attitude of fighting problems head on” – and that is just what Matt, wife Karen and their medical team did for nearly four years. Matt’s involvement in sailing and sailing-related management undoubtedly helped to keep him going for as long as he did.
Matt had a nomadic early life, being the son of a Department of Immigration official, Keith and mother, Pattie. Born in Lebanon in 1969 he was born into a sailing family, with his parents having sailed in the early days of the Canberra Yacht Club on Lake George and Lake Burley Griffin, with Matt’s maternal grandfather, John Watch, also becoming involved in club activities over a number of years. The family had subsequent postings to Scotland, India and the Philippines. As a youngster, Matt exercised polo ponies in Delhi and played third base for the school baseball team in Manila.
When the family lived in Melbourne in the 1980s, Matt joined the junior sailing program at the Black Rock Yacht Club. The Wilson brothers, Ross and Kevin (who in more recent years became principal race officers in charge of many major regattas in Australia), took him under their wing and taught him to sail in a competitive environment where teamwork and interpersonal skills were paramount. He carried those attributes through to later life.
In 2000 he married Karen and started work at the yacht club, initially as assistant director of the recently formed Sail School. He became director of the school and club manager in May 2001. Under his guidance the sailing school, with its Youth Sailing Academy and sail training activities for all ages became one of the largest sailing schools in Australia. In recent years, there has been a special emphasis on the younger age group, with the introduction of the Tackers programs, including Buoyed Up with Tackers, using the small Optimist Dinghy. Matt’s son Will has been introduced to sailing through the Tackers program, the fourth generation in the family to sail with the club.
Buoyed Up with Tackers was an initiative of the Thomas Lipton Foundation and was drawn to Matt’s attention by Canberra-based sailing Bronze medallist Ian Ruff, but it was Matt who brought the potential of the program to the club's committee, making it the first club in Australia to adopt the program.
Matt won a number of sports awards and in 2013 the club won the Australian Sailing Sports Promotion Award and was the NSW/ACT Discovery Sailing Centre for 2017. In 2009 he was only beaten for the Australian Sailing Sport Professional award by Olympic coach Victor Kovalenko.
Locally, Matt won numerous Canberra Yacht Club championships over the years, including in the Elliott 7, Sports boat and Flying Fifteen classes and he was Yachtsman of the Year at the CYC on six occasions from season 1998-99.
At the national level he won the Elliott 7 Australian championship in six consecutive years from season 2005-6 and numerous other regattas in that class. He subsequently won five Australian championships in the Flying Fifteen class, one of those being as crew for World Champion Steve Goacher from the UK. And he is the current New Zealand Flying Fifteen champion.
Matt was chair of the Lake User Group, a group sponsored by the National Capital Authority, which paid tribute to him noting his enthusiastic, positive and inclusive work with the group. "Matt had always been a wonderful ambassador for the Lake," an Authority spokesman said.
Matt is survived by his wife Karen, their son Will, parents Patti and Keith and sisters Bindi and Lizzie. His loss will be keenly felt by the entire Canberra sailing and broader community, who recognised him not just as a great sailor, but a great bloke who made a significant contribution to the lives of many.
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