Alan Hewitt 1960-2014 RIP
Tuesday, 4th November, 2014
Born, 26 June 1960, died 3 November 2014, aged 54
Larger than life: the expression might have been invented for Alan Hewitt, and yet it doesn’t really do justice to somebody many in Scotland will have first encountered as a strong time-triallist in his youth, who others will remember as a bike shop owner, others still as a team mechanic and manager, or as a respected and much-loved figure in a variety of roles in the cycling industry.
In Alan’s case, ‘larger than life’ falls a little short of conveying his sheer largeness, which has less to do with his physical size than you might assume, since he was incontestably a big man. But as all those who knew him will confirm, his personality was even bigger.
It was accentuated by his appearance; the earrings, changing hairstyles and increasingly adventurous facial foliage merely amplifying Alan’s already huge presence. A deep, booming voice helped, too. As did a sense of humour that made him as sharp and funny as Billy Connolly, though frequently darker – and often funnier.
He was one of those rare people who didn’t have to say anything to induce convulsions of laughter: a facial contortion would reduce you to tears. Merely an awareness that Alan was in the same room could be enough to make you laugh. And yet as a cycling team manager he could be serious when he had to be, and in this role always spoke great sense.
“You would meet him and think, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’” says Julian Coia. “But he was just a big, gentle, jovial giant.” Coia was a talented young rider with Hewitt’s club, Regent CC, when Hewitt took him under his wing. “When I think of all the help he gave me: advice, a job in his shop, away on so many trips to races, it was massive.”
Like many, Coia remembers him most for his mischievous and at times outrageous sense of fun. He recalls Hewitt attaching him to some railings in Rothesay with a bicycle U-lock. Or eating the chocolates he’d bought for Mother’s Day, then sending someone out for a replacement box – and eating those, too.
With his own racing career behind him, Hewitt became involved with Scottish teams in the early 90s. He and the late Jimmy McGinty were a great double act, who complemented and balanced each other: Jimmy a gentle and calm presence as soigneur, Alan a huge, charismatic personality and wise mentor who could find humour in the most unlikely situations.
He and Jimmy looked after the Scottish team, which included Julian and me, at the Junior Tour of Ireland in 1991. I recall during one stage, when it was raining and miserable, going back to the car with a mechanical problem. Alan was driving the old SCU Volvo, so Jimmy leant out the window and attended to the derailleur while my hand rested on the windscreen.
I was new to this kind of thing, and didn’t realise that by continuing to turn the pedals I was putting Jimmy’s fingers at risk of amputation. I was also too consumed with self-pity to hear Jimmy’s anguished protests. So Alan turned on the windscreen wipers, slicing my finger. As blood spattered the glass the booming laughter from the driver’s seat sent me back to the peloton with a smile (at least until the pain of the sliced finger set in).
On another occasion, during a road race at Rosneath, I was suffering on a climb. As I dropped back to the car being driven by Alan he wound down the window so I could hear what he was playing on the stereo – The Smiths’ Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.
The early to mid-90s were lean years for Scottish cycling. There wasn’t an abundance of volunteers to manage teams, and Alan did it not to boost his ego or to go on fancy trips but because he wanted to support the riders. After a few years in charge of the national junior team he took over the senior squad, slightly reluctantly perhaps, but for the right reasons (and without pay).
Alan took the Scotland team to the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada. The Riddle brothers, Kenny and Roddy, were part of that squad and became lifelong friends. “He was the biggest, cuddliest, jolliest giant in the world,” says Roddy. “Folk won’t realise how big a loss he is.”
Kenny recalls his fierce intelligence. “He was an intellectual guy. I dragged as much information out of him as I could; he was supremely clever.
“He could walk into a room full of strangers and make friends with everyone. In a group he would raise the spirits of everybody. His one-liners would have people in stitches.”
Behind the humour and laughs, Hewitt’s heart was in his sport. He was a great supporter of the Braveheart Fund for young Scottish cyclists, attending the first twelve annual dinners, often acting as an inspired and inspiring auctioneer. This year’s event, held the week before his death, was the first he missed. He had, as usual, bought a table but was a late and reluctant withdrawal as his health deteriorated.
Anybody who met him will remember Alan Hewitt for his wit and warmth. A giant of the sport in Scotland, in more ways than one.Words: Richard
Pictures: Gordon Goldie