Tributes pour in for popular Olympic sailor

  • Reid Kempe pictured with his family in Boston, where he was receiving treatment. Also in shot, from left, are daughter Zoe, son Justin, wife Lucia, and son Jonathan

    Reid Kempe pictured with his family in Boston, where he was receiving treatment. Also in shot, from left, are daughter Zoe, son Justin, wife Lucia, and son Jonathan


Family, friends, colleagues and members of the sailing fraternity have paid tribute to Reid Kempe, who passed away on Sunday morning surrounded by his wife and children. He was 64.

When Reid’s name comes up you may think of a former Olympian and giant in the sailing world, but he was also known as a perpetual learner and jack of all trades.

He fought a six-month battle with cancer but his positive attitude shone through to the end and before his death he was adamant that he would study at Harvard if everything worked out.

In his life he was politically active, a poet and musician, a teacher and marketer, champion sailor and boat restorer, but, above all else, he was a dedicated family man.

The fourth-generation Bermudian met his wife, Lucia, 44 years ago at University College London, where he was doing a thesis on the Anglo-American poet W.H. Auden. Lucia said she had found her “soulmate” and the couple later moved to the Island, where they had three children, Justin, Zoe and Jonathan.

“He was a bit of a ladies' man, but not in a bad way,” she said. “He was always good to me and true to me. We were the quintessential hippies. I was his lifelong sweetheart and he mine.”

Daughter Zoe recalled her father’s boisterous nature. “I was Daddy’s little girl, but he had that perfect balance,” she said. “In one room he could be having a pirate sword fight with the boys, then he would take off his pirate hat and come in and be having tea with me and my dollies with his tiara on. He nicknamed me ‘Gorge’, which was short for gorgeous and it stuck.

“Dad always believed in doing the right thing. ‘Don’t take short cuts, always look out for the underdog and make a difference in this world’. He would say ‘you only have a short stint on this planet, so you should help others and make an impact’. I think that is why he had so many friends.”

Sailing was in his blood. His father, Jimmy, built his young son a little sailboat and Reid later became the head sailing instructor at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.

Inspired by his father, who competed at two Olympic Games, Reid and his brother, Jay, launched their eight-year Olympic campaign and represented Bermuda in the Tornado class at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Before his death, he was able to fulfil a dream that was years in the making when he built a luxury catamaran Zara along with sons Justin and Jonathan.

The project spanned seven years and he was able throw up the sails and embark on a voyage from South Africa to St Maarten.

Justin said: “I started the project with my dad in 2008. We went to South Africa [where Zara was built] and I remember going on some amazing trips with him in the African countryside. We had many great family times.”

Jonathan added: “I was more of the sailor in the family — he made me sail and took me to regattas around the world. I was always so scared, but he would say to me ‘it’ll be fine, Champ’. He was very proud of us boys for what we had achieved; he put a lot of faith in us.”

It is not the only significant boat project he tackled — his 24-year restoration of the 1926 Chicane was hailed a magnificent feat for the level of detail and historical accuracy in the work. Boat enthusiasts from around the world came to see the end result.

According to his close friend and “kindred spirit”, Malcolm Kirkland, Reid Kempe was a co-visionary of reviving the King Edward VII Gold Cup, which laid the foundations for the 35th America’s Cup to come to Bermuda, with a World Series event taking place in October before the Qualifiers, Play-offs and Match are sailed in 2017.

“Never did we imagine that the [Gold Cup] itself would be here,” Mr Kirkland said. “The vision was to invite 1987 America’s Cup syndicates to come to Bermuda to compete in a spectator-friendly event in the one-on-one jousting that is the America’s Cup. But it did require introducing the RBYC to its first experience with corporate sponsorship. Reid not only imagined this, but was part of the implementation team to run the event ... and to even sail in it.”

The pair also worked on a Bermuda National Trust documentary called Which Way Bermuda?

“God knows we will miss his great friendship and liberal arts mind,” Mr Kirkland added.

Reid was passionate about Bermuda’s natural environment and, along with Mr Kirkland, was an instrumental member of environmentalist Stuart Hayward’s campaign election team from 1988. It led to Mr Hayward becoming the first MP to be elected as an independent.

Mr Hayward described Reid Kempe as an “astute intellectual with an infectious enthusiasm”.

He added: “He had a good grasp of the politics and he played a leadership role. He was a very gentle soul and he did his best to enjoy what he was doing. He would often put in an idea that was more humorous than essential and that was part of his style — to make it fun and not a drudge. We will all miss his humour and very strong care for our little Island of Bermuda.”

Mr Kempe also taught at several schools, including Somersfield Academy, where he taught English, humanities and Bermudian history — a subject he felt needed more attention on the Island.

Another career path was marketing during the 1980s with XL, then a fledgling reinsurance company. “Reid could write very clearly and he had a great creative streak, which made a really good combination for marketingm,” former XL chief executive Brian O’Hara said. “He was one of the leaders of the greatest marketing team in Bermuda at the time.”

While Mr O’Hara respected Reid’s professionalism, he fondly remembers his fun side. “When we would be in another city after a marketing event, we would go to popular hot spots. He was really good at passing himself off as Paul McCartney.

“He could effect the accent — after a while, maybe he thought he really was him.”

Edwin James “Reid” Kempe had been receiving treatment in Boston, but was mainly cared for at home by his wife and daughter, although the family expressed gratitude to PALS, in particular nurse Julie Harrington.

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Published Aug 25, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 25, 2015 at 9:33 am)

Tributes pour in for popular Olympic sailor

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