Author Gary van der Byl
I was first introduced to David on a Sunday morning in 1977 on court 5 at the Tennis Club and spent about an hour having a hit. He had been invited as a guest, by John Bishop, who was keen to get David to join as a member. Thankfully, David wasn’t put off by my standard of play so joined and very soon became one of the driving forces of change at Oadby Tennis Club.
The following summer, after our first team had been relegated to Division 4, most of the first team left for other clubs – ironically to get a better standard of team tennis. David was press ganged into becoming the first team captain and immediately gave juniors the chance of team tennis – a decision that caused some discussion from members who thought Juniors should play for junior teams. The first team was promoted the next season having played 3 juniors paired with 3 experienced seniors. They were promoted again the following season into Division 2.
David was first team captain for 15 years, the highlight of which was finishing 2nd in the 1st division, in the middle of the ’80s. During this time David struck up a very successful partnership with Rob May, who gave David the nickname “Commander Straker”. David and Rob won the Club doubles’ title 3 times in row and 4 times in total. Such was David’s commitment to chase down every ball, he had a reputation for climbing the back fencing when trying to retrieve opponent’s smashes. It may have been why the committee extended the courts’ rear playing area when the new clubhouse was eventually built. After every match season David and Anne would host a meal at their house – usually a Chinese take away – where there would be a lot of gentle banter about team members’ performances during the season and aspects that could be improved.
By 1980, David had been co-opted onto the committee and always supported by Anne, became very involved in the fund raising and building of the current Clubhouse – which replaced a wooden hut- and at one time corralled all members, with spades in hand, to help save the footings from collapse in the pouring rain, as cement was poured into them. David was Chairman when the new clubhouse was opened in November 1982. During that year David also won the County Closed Championship Veterans’ doubles title with John Bishop. Always keen to improve the Club’s facilities, he was very active in pushing for floodlights in 1987 on courts 5 and 6, and then pushing for our first 3 artificial grass surfaces on courts 4, 5 and 6 in 1992.
It was in April 1992, whilst playing for the County, that David suffered a heart attack. He was taken to hospital, where he told the doctor that he couldn’t stay the night as he had an important league match for Oadby the following day. I think Anne firmly put her foot down at that point. The heart attack did not stop David playing tennis or doing other sports to a high level of proficiency. He enjoyed alpine skiing once or twice a year, his last trip was in January 2020, just before the lockdown. He was a very good water skier and mastered the art of a pontoon launch. He played for the GB vets’ team, making friends across the country and in Norway, and regularly competed at the National Grass Courts Championships at Wimbledon. In latter years, as injuries began to catch up with him, he played less tennis but remained a real supporter of the club, coming down to mix in on Sundays and weekdays and always keen to spectate – home or away – the team matches. David enjoyed the club tournaments and would always come down to watch the matches – this was especially true when Anne was away playing golf for a couple of days and David would use the opportunity to have his evening meal at the club. In 2008 David received the Leicestershire County Veteran of the Year award.
David passed away at home, surrounded by his family, exactly 29 years to the day of his heart attack in 1992. The years in between never stopped David living life to the maximum.
A couple of years ago David shared a small note called “keeping it up”. It was a wonderful narrative on how to keep living as age inevitably catches up with you. If you have 5 minutes I highly recommend a read – it has wonderful advice such as “get a medical opinion from a doctor who relishes sport.. they are more likely to take a realistic view to risk and quality of life”.
I will miss our court-side chats about the latest tennis news, updates on our respective families and his healthy distrust and strong views on anyone who held a position of power. Not many members have been Chairman, First Team Captain for 15 years, Club Champion, County Champion and a great grandfather. Above all, David and Anne have always been very kind.
Our thoughts are with Anne, Richard, Heather and their families. I know that they take comfort in the fact David lived a truly full and rewarding life. Oadby Tennis club was very lucky to have him as a member and I am grateful to have called him a friend.