Obituaries: Jack Snowdon MBE, swimming coach and administrator

Jack Snowdon MBE, swimming coach, administrator and water polo goalkeeper. Born: 8 June 1923 in Edinburgh. Died: 17 April 2022, aged 98

Jack Snowdon will be remembered in the Edinburgh swimming commmunity for the encouragement he gave numerous people of all ages.

He passed away of natural causes in his family home on 17 April, surrounded by his loving family. Jack, who will be remembered by so many for his contribution to their involvement in swimming and water polo, was also a Second World War veteran with the Royal Navy.

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John (Jack) Anthony Snowdon was born at the family home at Abbeyhill, Edinburgh on 8 June 1923, the eldest of Barbara and John Snowdon’s two children.

Jack Snowdon was recognised as a gentleman in the world of aquaticsJack Snowdon was recognised as a gentleman in the world of aquatics
Jack Snowdon was recognised as a gentleman in the world of aquatics

He attended Abbeyhill Primary school before moving up to George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, and joined Portobello Amateur Swimming club in 1936, along with his cousin Walter Chisholm.

His desire was to join the Navy and after leaving school he did so at 18. By 19 he was an officer, following training in Edinburgh and Ipswich – his first time away from home.

In an interview with STV on the 75th anniversary of VE Day, with typical stoicism he described his participation in the D-Day landing, despite coming under fire and being shot in the knee, as his “having a job to do”.

He was taken to hospital in Birmingham and, once recovered, was posted to Northern Ireland and told he would soon be setting sail for Japan; thankfully the end of the war in Europe was announced and the ship never sailed.

After VE Day Jack contracted TB and spent around 18 months in Tor-Na-Dee Sanitorium in Milltimber, just outside Aberdeen. All the fresh air and “good living” helped Jack recover, and he came back to Edinburgh, although he later had to return for further treatment.

He started work for Morham & Brotchie as a Quantity Surveyor, becoming a Senior QS and setting up the Oban office before moving to work for Edinburgh Council. Upon retiring he was able to dedicate more time to family and swimming matters.

Jack married Alberta on 17 April 1954 and they set up home in Portobello. They had three daughters, Catherine (Cath), Julie and Barbara (Babs), who were all encouraged to swim with Portobello Swimming Club.

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It was with Portobello Swimming Club that Jack would have a memorable impact throughout his life, as water polo goalkeeper, swimmer, coach and administrator with the sports of swimming, water polo and synchronised swimming.

He even had a role in a historic event on the English Channel, when Jack was part of the support team when, in 1950, Ned Barnie became the first Scottish man to swim the English Channel. Ned was also the oldest person ever to swim that stretch of water. It was a momentous event that stayed with Jack for all of his days.

He played in the annual masters water polo games into his sixties and was poolside as a coach until well into his nineties, supporting generations of children to swim, compete and enjoy the water.

As a swimming referee he was ruthlessly efficient in running galas – Jack’s events never finished late. He supported all the clubs in Edinburgh, running a Sunday night session at the Royal Commonwealth Pool from its opening in 1970 until recent years.

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Jack also helped run the Disability Sport galas and supported the wee local galas at Portobello, be it the Boys Brigade, Guides or Scouts.

Scottish Disability Sport recognised his contribution when awarding him the Elspeth Watson Trophy in 2004 for the individual outwith Scottish Disability Sports who had contributed significantly to disability sport.

He also served as Honorary President of the Edinburgh Synchro Club for several years prior to 2021.

Jack held positions as President of Portobello 1972/3, East district in 1969/70 and Scottish Swimming (SASA) in 1984, becoming a life member of all.

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He was at one time or another Treasurer and Secretary of all these bodies. Along with Bob Mitchell, Mae Cochrane and Bill Black, he moved the SASA towards becoming a more corporate organisation before it became “professional”.

Always keen to remain involved in events, he was ever present at the Portobello Annual Dinners and a regular attendee at the Warrender Dinner and SASA Past President’s dinner.

Jack’s services to the sport of swimming were recognised in the 2001 New Year Honours list with his appointment as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). He will be well remembered as a gentleman throughout the world of aquatics.

Alberta passed away in 1998, and Jack continued to live in the family home, in latter years supported by his granddaughter Louise.

Jack is survived by daughters, Cath, Julie and Babs and their families, including grandchildren Vivienne, Louise, Alison, Angus, Gordon and Christina and great-grandson Henry. The newest member of the family, Isabella, was born a few weeks after his passing.


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