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Tributes pour in for popular Olympic sailor

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 Mr Kempe'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.

Mr Kempe 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 the University College London where he was doing a thesis on the Anglo-American poet WH Auden. Lucia said she had found her “soul mate” 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 remembered. “He was always good to me and true to me. We were the quintessential hippies. I was his lifelong sweetheart and he mine.”

His daughter Zoe recalled her father's boisterous nature: “I was daddy's little girl but he had that perfect balance — 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 shortcuts, 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 sail boat and Reid later became the head sailing instructor at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.

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

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 his two 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 recalled: “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 major boat project he tackled — his 24-year-long 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, Mr Kempe was a co-visionary of reviving the King Edward VII Gold Cup, which laid the foundations for the 2017 America's Cup itself to come to Bermuda in 2017.

Mr Kirkland said: “Never did we imagine that the [Gold Cup] itself would be here. 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?

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

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

“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 the then-fledgling reinsurance company XL. Former CEO Brian O'Hara recalled: “Reid could write very clearly and he had a great creative streak which made a really good combination for marketing. He was one of the leaders of the greatest marketing team in Bermuda at the time.”

While Mr O'Hara respected Kempe's professionalism, he fondly remembers his fun side.

“When we would be in another city after a marketing event we would go to popular hotspots. 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.”

Mr Kempe had been receiving treatment in Boston but was mainly cared for at home by his wife and daughter, though the family expressed gratitude to PALS — in particular their nurse Julie Harrington.

From left, Justine, Jonathan, Reid and Zoe Kempe.

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Published August 25, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated August 25, 2015 at 10:34 am)

Tributes pour in for popular Olympic sailor

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