Celebrating the life of Dame Di Ellis

I was very honoured to join many in the world of rowing and sport more widely to celebrate the life of Dame Di Ellis DBE, in Henley-on-Thames on Thursday 26 October 2017. 

Although I only got to know Di, through her role as Vice President, when I joined the Alliance three years ago, it didn’t take me long to realise why she had made such a big impact in rowing, sport and life in general. 

I was joined in Henley by four of Di’s fellow Vice Presidents at the Alliance, one of whom, Brigid Simmonds OBE, gave a lovely tribute to Di as part of the service, in which she said: 

Di and I were born 20 years apart, almost to the day. Something I only discovered when Kate Lawrenson arranged birthday cakes when we were 50 and 70 respectfully. Di was deputy chairman of the Sport and Recreation Alliance (CCPR), throughout my time as Chairman and on the Board for 13 years. The organisation was at that stage going through a tough time and we certainly had some challenges. Di was always there for me.  I remember her sending me flowers one day and when I asked why, she said just because what we have just done was difficult. Whilst I know from (her daughter) Claire that she did not work in HR per se, she was outstandingly good at dealing with such issues.  

It was never enough for Di to ensure her own sport succeeded, she was clear that it was her role to grow all sport, improve its professionalism, look after its volunteers and create an environment which encouraged participation and world class achievement.” 

Brigid’s tribute was complemented by ones from Sir Steve Redgrave CBE, Dame Katherine Grainger, Sir Craig Reedie CBE and Tommy Thomson. All of them shared their personal memories of Di and the influence she had had, whether through reforming British Rowing, becoming the first lady Steward at Henley Royal Regatta, encouraging the next generation of athletes, playing a leading role in a number of wider sports organisation, as she did with us at the Alliance, and of course being a much-loved wife, sister, mum, grandmother and friend. The fact that the church was full of a real spread of generations was a true testament to that. 

Brigid summed up the thoughts of everyone in the Church when she so fittingly ended her tribute, by saying: 

You were taken from us far too early, but I will always be grateful for your friendship, advice, cheerfulness and I am absolutely sure that we will meet again.”