Obituaries

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09.10.1914 – 30.12.2012

Nancy Tomkins, in her heyday a well known and respected hockey correspondent for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the magazine Hockey Field for many years, died at the age of 98.

She had a stroke just before Christmas 2012, rallied, but passed away on 30 December.

While few of the modern generation were aware of the great contribution she made to the sport of hockey, tributes to one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet came from all over the world.

Pat Ward, former Editor of Hockey Field magazine, had particular reason to remember her colleague with great affection and admiration. When they got together to write The Century Makers: A History of All England Women’s Hockey Association 1895 – 1995, produced to mark the AEWHA 100th anniversary. It was a more than fitting tribute and insight into the development of women’s hockey in England.

According to Pat, Nancy (already an octogenarian) wrote “the majority of the text most meticulously, from her personal experiences of playing and meeting hockey folks all around the world”.

When Nancy was reporting hockey, she was fortunate that it was in the days when top journalists were able to command plenty of space in the national newspapers. Her lengthy reports were eagerly devoured by hockey followers. She had a great following and the admiration of her fellow scribes.

Biddy Burgum, a former England international, writes, “Nancy was able to create a vivid picture of a hockey match by her gift for words; her deep knowledge and love of the game; and her real interest in each player”.

When England lost to New Zealand by 1-0 at Wembley on 7 March 1977, Nancy wrote, “the lingering myth from a receding golden age that there is no divine advantage in the ladylike English game was buried unceremoniously in the Wembley bowl on Saturday”. The headline on the story, “Golden Age Is Past”. Throughout her journalistic career the headlines on her articles reflected her insightful reports.

The former England international and coach Brenda Read reminds us that “her knowledge and love of the game informed her analysis. Her reports were well written, accurate and fair. As a player I always valued her comments”.

Nancy was first noticed playing for Middlesex Junior reserves in 1930-31. She played county for Leicestershire and Berkshire and later founded Thatcham Women’s HC. That club later merged with Newbury men to become the Newbury HC of today.

Berkshire team-mate Brenda Coleshill recalls Nancy’s immaculate playing style and skills  which she described as “ a mirror image of her personality: neat, precise, understanding, encouraging, patient and kind”. 

She progressed from playing to become an AEWHA Advanced Coach, her first success being to take Hampshire to the South County Championship.

Her abilities were quickly recognised and soon appointments came to coach abroad, first in Ireland and then regularly in the USA where she was extremely popular.

Her journalism took her all over the world and she was not content just to report the major hockey tournaments but invariably took the opportunity to meet up with the long standing friends and travel widely with them in the countries she visited.

She was briefly secretary to the South WHA but quickly moved on to become AEWHA Development Officer in 1965, though she continued to serve on the South Sports Council and other committees.

Nancy was a founder member of the Hockey Writers Club in 1972, its second Chairman (1978-1982) and the first person to be elected an HWC Life Member (1991). She played a vital role in achieving a closer relationship between the ruling bodies of hockey and the media.

Few today will know just how big a role she played in the development of the game of hockey.

After retiring as a hockey correspondent, Nancy and her equally popular husband Les moved from Berkshire to a remote corner of Herefordshire, to a house called Woodhay in Walterstone Common.

She was involved in many aspects of life. One of her passions was politics.  Pat Ward reveals that her work as Press Officer for the Hereford Liberal Democrats “was a special pleasure, enabling her to release her strong and well thought out political views.  A writer of many Lib. Dem. speeches, she could let her feelings flow and really enjoyed the privilege”.

Sadly her husband did not survive the move to Walterstone very long but Nancy elected to remain there. She loved the peace, tranquillity and beauty around her home high up in the Black Mountains of Herefordshire. She was a brilliant gardener and her garden was the envy of many.

She stayed at Walterstone even when her health deteriorated and she needed a wheelchair.  Sadly she did have to spend the last two years in a care home at Abergavenny.

She was loved by all who came into contact with her; simply a wonderful person to have known.

Patrick Rowley

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