By Sandy Lindsay
Derek, or Dick Dastardly as he was fondly known, has died. In a cycling career picked up after a 50-year lay-off, he surpassed performances set as a teenager in the 1950s. Dick resumed cycling in earnest when semi-retired from the oil industry, in which he enjoyed an equally eventful career as an ROV (remotly operated vehicle) pilot.
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Born at Torphins, Aberdeenshire, on 02 July, 1936, Derek Vincent Stewart was the youngest of four brothers. His first job on leaving school in 1952 was as an office boy with Aberdeen Council’s information bureau, publicising the city as a holiday resort.
His second job, as an apprentice mechanical engineer, set him on the path to his career in electronics. However, after two years this was diverted into National Service with the RAF. As a driver with the desert convoys, Derek served two years in Iraq.
After finishing service Derek became a radio and television engineer. When North Sea oil was struck in 1973, he saw the first black gold come ashore. He entered the diving industry as a technician on vessels that were to take him to the shores of 23 countries across six continents.
When technology saw the replacement of divers with safer remote-controlled vehicles, Derek joined an elite group of operators. The work took him away from home months at a time.
There were moments of danger and excitement. Working in Norway, Derek was once loading equipment on to a vessel from the quayside. He slipped and found himself plunging deep into the icy waters. It was only the chance presence of someone on the quayside that saved him.
A more notable escape was on BA flight 009, which left Heathrow bound for Australia in June 1982. Over Indonesia, the aircraft flew into a volcanic dust cloud and its engines cut out. For 13 minutes, Derek and his fellow passengers looked at one another helplessly as the plane fell from the sky. Managing to restart an engine the plane landed in Jakarta. Derek was featured in a book documenting the incident, whose title, All Four Engines Have Failed, was taken from the pilot’s announcement from the cockpit.
Originally a member of Aberdeen’s Thistle Road Club which amalgamated with the Deeside Road Club in 1953 to form Deeside Thistle RC. He was 17 at the time. In those early years he returned record times at 10 miles with a 24.34, at 25 miles with 1.01.27 and 50 miles with 2.07.37.
It fuelled the competitive streak that has lasted his whole life but that cycling talent as a teenager had to be curtailed by National Service, then was superseded by work and family. As a competitive outlet he took part in half marathons and 10km races from the 1970s to the 1990s.
As organiser of an early public participation event (Great Inverurie Bike Ride) Dick approached me in the 1990s and introduced himself as a former member of the Deeside Thistle RC. This led him to rejoin the club on 05 August 2003 at 67 years of age and he raced a 10TT the same day returning 29.33 and never looked back.
In his own words to me just three weeks before he died “It’s been a roller coaster 13 years”. Soon after returning to his first sporting love, Derek was achieving lifetime personal bests and age-related records in 10, 25, 50 and 100-mile time trials.
A few notes from the archives:
2006 70 year-old Dick Stewart has astounded everyone. He has continued his comeback after a 50-year layoff and competes successfully in all the events he enters
2007 Derek Stewart continues to rewrite results. He has won various SVTTA Vets awards and at 71 was our best finisher in the Senior Middle Distance BAR
2011 Dick Stewart celebrated great success in taking the British Vets 25TT Championship
2015 Derek Stewart, now 79, continued his extraordinary racing career by winning the VTTA 10 and 25 mile titles. His time of 22.35 for the 10 miles is the fastest ever by a 78 year old. The VTTA has awarded him the CW Cook Trophy for Meritorious Performance
During Dick’s comeback years he won nearly every trophy the Scottish branch of the VTTA had to offer. Some these awards were won year after year. In 2015 his success culminated in two prestigious awards, the Tom McGinness Trophy from the SVTTA and the C W Cook Trophy from the VTTA for outstanding performances at National level.
Cycling led to the realisation of another dream. The young man who started out repairing TVs really wanted to be a face on the box. In the 1990s BBC commissioned the drama series Roughnecks. Derek won a role as a regular extra. In 2005 he competed on the Weakest Link quiz. Then in 2013 he was chosen to be a leading participant in the ITV gameshow Amazing Greys.
He was featured in the book The Oilmen: North Sea Tigers, made other TV appearances and worked as a model to market leisure activities for over-50s. Further fashion shoots for Highland wear and high street stores put Derek on the catwalk regularly. He also served as a community councillor in Aberdeen.
He met his illness, pancreatic cancer, which arrived without warning in August, with great dignity. In the face of a disease rampaging like lightning through a supremely fit body, Derek reflected with courage and gratitude on a life filled with excitement and opportunity. Married to Irene for 55 years, he died at home.
Derek is survived by Irene, their children Kevin, Julie and Caroline, and granddaughters Tania, Lorna, Catriona and Ella.