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Mentor and ‘godfather of canoeing’ mourned


Sacred Heart College and the wider Catholic community have been deeply impacted by the sudden death of teacher Roger French who suffered a heart attack on the Champagnat Campus at Mitchell Park on April 30.

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Roger studied at Western Teachers College and began his career as a tech studies teacher at Loxton High School, followed by Elizabeth High, Kidman Park and St Michael’s College.

His journey at Sacred Heart commenced in July 1996 when he was appointed as the director of development for the College Foundation, a position he held until the end of 2007.

One of the highlights of this time was meeting entrepreneur Robert Stigwood which led to the benefactor donating his Banks Florilegium prints collection. Roger coordinated the auction of the botanical prints to raise funds for the performing arts centre.

Roger returned to the classroom fulltime in 2008 as learning area coordinator for Design and Technology at the Middle School, and for the past 13 years he had been living out his vocation in educating young people in construction, design, and technology.

His greatest passion outside of the classroom was competition canoeing.

His achievements in the sport as a competitor were extraordinary. He won 35 national canoe sprint and marathon titles, and more than 400 State canoe sprint and marathon titles.

Last year Roger won gold at the International Canoe Federation Masters World Championship in Sydney. One of his greatest joys was witnessing four Sacred Heart old scholars, who he coached and mentored, make the finals of the Olympic Qualifiers in Slovakia in 2014.

He was always ready to serve the local community, as chair of the board at St John the Baptist School, committee member at St Mary’s College, president, secretary and treasurer of the West Lakes Canoe Club, president of the Westminster College Old Scholars and a Justice of the Peace.

SHC principal Steve Byrne said Roger left a rich legacy. “He was a man of deep faith, his personal and professional integrity was of the highest order, and he always fostered the self-worth of the students he taught,” he said.

In his eulogy, Tom French said his father had a particular strength in using his skills to include others, especially those who were on the outer. He spoke of Roger’s love of paddling which started on the River Murray as a little boy and included doing headstands in his canoe as he crossed the finish line in later life. He was known by Paddle Australia as the ‘godfather of canoeing’.

Roger’s wife Maria, who works in Catholic education at Tenison Woods Primary School and St John the Baptist School, said the family had been “utterly overwhelmed with love, visits, prayers, messages, phone calls, flowers, food and more from near and far”.

“We are stunned by the number of lives touched by Roger and the tributes given to him.

“To say thank you doesn’t even touch the surface but when we felt we were drowning in a sea of shock and grief, your support kept us afloat.”

Roger is survived by Maria, his four children (Tom, Emily, Laura and Megan) and four grandchildren (Patrick, Ethan, Siobhan and Holly).



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