We are the participants of the Thursday class, the last class which was still taught by Lawrence Gough himself, and we received his tuition over many years. We all enjoyed his incomparable style of teaching time and time again and we took him to our hearts as a unique teacher.
Every Thursday, we were welcomed by him with a wink and a “Good evening, boys and girls”. Before the start of the lesson, he then smilingly served each of us a cup of tea or coffee: “It's my pleasure”. His lessons were not about working through subject matter inflexibly. Combined with the studying, he skilfully found enough time and room to tell about personal experiences or events which had particularly occupied you in the last few days – and this in English, of course. He always let us go again with a winkingly strict “Do your homework, please!”
With great humour, he recounted funny episodes from his young days in Ireland and captivated us with factual reports from his native land. He constantly spoke about fencing, which he practised with a passion, but only seldom about the experiences which had massively influenced his career as a sportsman and had shaken to the core his belief in sportsmanship, fairness and honour. We only learned the details through the publication of his ‘Gough Papers’.
And so some years of English lessons went by. Just like every year, we said goodbye again for the summer break in June 2016. In August, Lawrence Gough then informed us that he wished to retire from active service after 46 years and devote himself to the management of Gough International in future. This all came as a great surprise to us and we very much regretted his sudden decision.
We then considered what would be a suitable farewell gift for Lawrence.
Lawrence was an enthusiastic and inspiring teacher and his relationship with his students was both respectful and appreciative, always in the endeavour to improve their ability. With pleasure, he often told us about “his young people” at FALS secondary school, where he held a course in business English once every school year. He obviously enjoyed working with the young people in his own way and seeing how they were enthused, which made all the effort worthwhile.
Lawrence was an enthusiastic fencer as well. He published his own personal story of this in his ‘Gough Papers’ in winter 2015. His story is a prime example of not giving up your own ideals and values in life despite all the injustices and adversities that come along. After conflicts with the Irish Fencing Federation, a life ban was imposed on the 19-year-old Lawrence Gough. It took years to overturn this ban – which, however, did not stop the federation from putting obstacles in his way whenever the opportunity arose. The successes he had achieved were ignored, culminating in his not being nominated for the Olympic Games in 1968 in Mexico and 1976 in Montreal. You don’t have to be a top athlete to understand what this means to a sportsman.
Against this background, our group formed the idea of a farewell gift that should have something or other to do with fencing. The initial suggestions revolved around a stylised fencing weapon or even a sword or an artistically designed mask.
With this lively discussion and gathering of ideas, November 2016 came around and we suddenly received the sad news that Lawrence had died. We took this in with great shock and dismay – but were immediately agreed that now more than ever, we would make an enduring gift a reality. The farewell gift for Lawrence Gough should now become a tribute in honour of his memory.
It quickly became clear to us that the prize should be both a tribute to a great sportsman who had experienced much injustice as well as an appreciation of an educator who had passed on his ideals and moral concepts to his students with great commitment, passion and unshakeable conviction.
What should such a tribute look like? It could be a prize offered annually to a promising young Solingen fencer. Should it be a money prize or a material prize, or perhaps both? We agreed on an annual money prize for a specific purpose, a challenge trophy and a small trophy for the winner every year.
We discussed and agreed this with his wife Christine Gough beforehand and were pleased to have received both her consent and her further support for our efforts.
We thus got in touch with FALS and introduced our idea of a ‘Lawrence Gough Prize’. To our great pleasure, the idea was taken up immediately and was developed together with FALS and the fencing centre FechtZentrum Solingen from then on.
What sort of trophy should it be? We came back again to our original idea of a stylised fencing weapon. Lawrence indeed had a great number of cutting and thrusting weapons lying around in the language school, but how to create a prestigious fencing prize from that? Here a member of our Thursday group had a great idea: let’s just ask Jugendhilfe-Werkstatt – the youth welfare workshop – whether they could design such a trophy. No sooner said than done, they could and they would. Jugendhilfe-Werkstatt made us not only a wonderful fencing challenge trophy but also the individual trophy for the winner each year.
And so we came full circle, presumably too as Lawrence would have wished. Because in its own distinctive way, the organisation chosen to design the prize – Jugend-Hilfewerkstatt – likewise reaches young persons who need support, help and guidance on their journey into the future. Ideals which Lawrence always stood up for too.
And we also found sponsors for the money prize so that it is sure to be awarded for years to come.
In remembrance of Lawrence Gough and at yearly intervals as from the beginning of this year, a young Solingen fencer will now receive the ‘Lawrence Gough Prize’ for his or her outstanding achievements. The prize provides for financial support and a material prize. In addition, a challenge trophy with the names of the annual winners as well as information about Lawrence Gough will be on show in a display case in the hall of FechtZentrum Solingen e.V.