An inspiration - Cathie Sabin OBE, 1947-2020

Shropshire’s Cathie Sabin OBE, the LTA’s first female president, was truly an inspiration and a friend to many around the county and much further afield.

Many wonderful tributes have been paid to Cathie since she sadly passed away last week.

Her positive attitude and ability to engage with people from all walks of life were among her special qualities - and there were so many more during a lifetime devoted to sharing her love of tennis.

Tennis Shropshire chair Simon Jones said: “People like Cathie are rare. She had time for everyone and was always so positive. Cathie gave so much to tennis and was truly inspirational. 

"A lot of people are involved in tennis today because of Cathie. The list of what she achieved goes on and on, but her heart always remained at grassroots level, particularly here in Shropshire, and she always had time for everyone.

“Cathie worked tirelessly to make tennis a sport for everyone and while she will be sadly missed, we should count ourselves fortunate to have had Cathie in our lives.

“There’s been so many tributes paid from the tennis world and also from former pupils she taught during her time at Shifnal’s Idsall School. 

“Cathie was a truly wonderful human being and I, along with a lot of other people, was privileged to have been able to call Cathie a friend." 

Bob Kerr, the LTA councillor for Shropshire, added: "Cathie was truly inspirational. She never saw barriers, only challenges to move forward and the opportunities that would be created when those challenges were overcome. 

"With a genuine ability to converse with everyone in the same way, whether royalty or the relative of a child she had taught decades ago, Cathie championed equality and integration.

"Cathie had a lifelong belief that the game of tennis, particularly at its grassroots, was a force for good in people's lives. 

"Passionate in her support of the LTA, and tennis in the wider world, Cathie had a special place in her heart for the tennis scene here in Shropshire. 

"I consider myself privileged to have known our First Lady of Tennis and will remember our many conversations with great fondness."

Cathie, who lived in Much Wenlock with her husband John, contributed so much to tennis since first picking up a racket at the age of seven.

At the heart of it all was a love of bringing more people into the sport, which she did for many years as a PE teacher at Shifnal’s Idsall School, and an incredible passion for recognising the people and volunteers from club to national level who help to grow tennis in Britain. 

It was while at college that Cathie had the opportunity to coach in Newfoundland for a summer. It led to her love of coaching and teaching tennis to young people, the start of a journey that would see her use her own passion for the sport to benefit others over the coming decades.
She was in her twenties when she moved from Birmingham to become a teacher in Shropshire, the county she would go on to represent on court, as well as off court, for so many years.

Retirement from her teaching role at Idsall in 2005 - Cathie had received the LTA /Nestle Teacher of the Year Award five years earlier - allowed her to concentrate on serving as LTA councillor for Shropshire from 2001 to 2011.

Named National Volunteer of the Year in 2009, Cathie, who also served on the LTA board and numerous other LTA committees and working groups, was appointed deputy president of the LTA in 2011.

She was then so proud to be LTA president for three years from 2014-16 during a truly golden era for British tennis. 

She attended all of the Grand Slams, supported the British Davis Cup team far and wide, including when they so memorably became champions for the first time in 79 years in Belgium, lent her support to the Fed Cup team in Eilat and Budapest, while she also witnessed Andy Murray win the Wimbledon men's singles title and be crowned Olympic gold medalist in Rio for a second time.

Cathie loved her time as LTA president and, as much as she enjoyed the high-profile occasions, she relished the opportunity to support grassroots tennis by visiting every county in England, Scotland and Wales during her three-year term.

Her heart remained with county tennis, particularly with Shropshire. She passionately believed clubs, schools and the county scene to be the bedrock of tennis, where the development of the game could be encouraged.
A desire to recognise this saw Cathie instigate the introduction of the LTA Tennis Awards in 2016, acknowledging the people and volunteers from club to national level who help to grow tennis in Britain.

Among everything she has done for the sport, it was Cathie’s incredible passion for this that is regarded by many within the game as leaving an indelible impact on tennis in Britain.

Cathie's impact was not just limited to Great Britain as at international level she was appointed a member of the ITF Olympic Committee in 2015.

From 2010 until the end of last year, she also represented the LTA on the committee of management of the Wimbledon Championships in conjunction with the All England Lawn Tennis Club.  

Cathie was awarded an OBE for services to tennis in 2016, with the presentation made by Prince Charles.  

Such a busy schedule restricted the time Cathie was able to spend on court, although she continued to enjoy playing tennis with friends and was a member at both Bridgnorth Tennis Club and The Shrewsbury Club.  

Further recognition for her outstanding contribution to tennis in Britain and internationally came Cathie’s way when she deservedly stepped into the spotlight as the recipient of the 2019 Carl Aarvold Award from the LTA.

First presented in 1982 and named after former LTA president Sir Carl Aarvold, it is regarded as the highest honour for individual services to tennis.

Cathie was presented with the prestigious award at last July's LTA Tennis Ball in London and received a standing ovation from a packed audience, including county associations, British tennis fans and international tennis guests.   
Cathie joined an illustrious roll of honour including multiple Grand Slam title winners Virginia Wade, Ann Jones and Peter Norfolk, Davis Cup captain Leon Smith, former Wimbledon tournament referee Alan Mills, and legendary tennis commentators Dan Maskell and John Barratt. 

After collecting her award, Cathie said: “I am completely awestruck to have received this award. I’ve always said that everything I did I did because of the support given to me by everyone else involved in tennis. 

"I’ve met some wonderful, wonderful people on the journey, and it is the British tennis family who have made it possible for me to receive this award.” 

Cathie is survived by her husband John, her sons Ben and Simon and her grandchildren.

A just giving page has been set up in Cathie’s memory to raise funds in support of Myeloma UK, Severn Hospice and the Dan Maskell Tennis Trust.

It can be visited by clicking here