John Church was born and raised in Rwanda, in East Africa, where his father had established a mission hospital in the late 1920s. Following his medical training at Emmanuel College and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, John studied tropical medicine in Belgium, before returning to Africa in 1959, to take over the running of his father’s hospital.


The violence and danger of the Rwandan civil war of 1959-61 led John to relocate his young family to Uganda and then Kenya, where he worked at teaching hospitals, and undertook research. He used the fruit bat as a unique model for his research, focussing on the skeletal muscle ‘satellite cell’, and ultimately proving it to be as a resident stem cell. He submitted this pioneering MD thesis to Cambridge University, and was awarded the 1968 prize.


‘Messing about in boats’ has been a life-long joy for John, whether under sail, steam-powered, or indeed behind a pair of oars. More of a hockey man while up at Emmanuel, he confesses he did on one occasion ‘borrow’ a scull from the college boathouse, under the cloak of darkness, for a clandestine outing to Fen Ditton!


His connection to rowing was more thoroughly realised through 2 of his children, Simon and Susannah. Both also attended Emmanuel College, Simon foregoing University trials to focus on his role as Captain of Boats, and later rowing for Leander and Upper Thames Rowing Clubs. Susannah rowing for CUWBC in 3 boat races, twice as a Lightweight, and then as stroke of the Blue Boat.


John rejoiced in his children’s love of the sport, and in all their achievements. So when the opportunity arose to contribute to the future success of Cambridge rowing, he was delighted to enable the purchase of a new boat for the Women’s VIII. And it was with huge excitement and pride that he watched the crew of 2021 speed the ‘John Church MD’ to victory in the Boat Races at Ely.