Obituary: The table tennis champion who loved to help others

File photo of Mary Sawyer, at home with a table tennis bat and ball. 

Mary Sawyer at home with a table tennis bat and ball. - Credit: Archant

She loved the feel of a table tennis bat in her hand and the satisfying feeling of helping others share her favourite sport. 

And now tributes have been paid to Mary Sawyer, who has died at the age of 89.

Mrs Sawyer, from North Walsham, was briefly English doubles table tennis champion and runner-up with partner Diane Rowe. 

Chris Pooley, president of the North Norfolk Table Tennis league, said Mrs Sawyer’s dedication to the sport was legendary.

File photo of Mary Sawyer. 

Mary Sawyer was briefly English doubles table tennis champion - Credit: Archant

Mr Pooley said: “She took everything she did with great pride. She never got ruffled and treated everybody well, and tried to help youngsters whenever she could.

“She was a giver in life, never a taker - motherly, warm, friendly and was always welcoming.”

Mrs Sawyer was born in London and moved to Norfolk with her late husband Albert, who also played table tennis, around 20 years ago. 


A cutting from the Daily Mirror, when Mary Sawyer won the Daily Mirror open championship in 1957 - Credit: Archant

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She joined the north Norfolk league and also represented the county, and sat on Table Tennis England’s committee. 

After the league decided it wanted to recruit more junior members around 15 years ago, Mrs Sawyer set up training courses for them in North Walsham, Bacton, Aylsham and Sheringham.

Mr Pooley said the league was once in danger of folding with only 11 teams, down from a high of around 35, but that largely thanks to Mrs Sawyer's efforts that number was brought back up to 29 before the pandemic. 

“I think if it wasn’t for her and the input she put in getting other people to help, the league would have folded," he said. 

"She was always there selling raffle tickets to raise money to keep things going.”

In August 1994, Mrs Sawyer was awarded the Maurice Goldstein Merit Award for devoted service to table tennis, and she won a further award from the north Norfolk league in 2012/13.

Mrs Sawyer was mother to daughter Julie and son Andie, and she had four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

She would often knit clothes for younger family members while watching others play table tennis. 

Mr Pooley added: “Many will remember her for the clicking of needles as she knitted another jumper for her grandchildren.”