Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Champ farewelled

Tom Downie has been remembered as a "wonderful man" who had a massive impact on sport in the region. He died at the age of 70 on October 28.

ASHLEIGH WILLIAMSON November 2, 2012 2:24pm

Lisa, Jane and Sarah Downie and (front) Val and Tom Downie.

Tom Downie fought cancer for 10 years with the same determination he had played tennis since the age of 11.

Mr Downie had a kidney removed after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2002.

Doctors later told him he could no longer play sport after having a third of his lungs removed.

He not only returned to play tennis, he capped his decorated career with a veterans world title in 2007.

His wife Val remembers watching her husband win at least five matches from 4-5, 0-40, behind in third set.

‘‘Even at 4-5, 0-40, he still thought he was going to beat his opponent, ’’ Val said.

‘‘He had an incredible self-belief. We thought the same about his cancer — if he thought he was going to beat it, he would.’’

Mr Downie, 70, died at Goulburn Valley Base Hospital on Sunday night.

He will be remembered as a determined competitor on the sporting field and the life of the party off it.

Seymour boy

Thomas Munro Downie was born on March 13, 1942, the oldest of two children — one daughter and one son — to Seymour couple Gordon and Thelma (both deceased).

Mr Downie spent his childhood playing cricket on a no-through road, football in a paddock and tennis on the Eastern Hill courts.

He was adored as a child, even after setting fire to a neighbouring paddock while playing with matches, and had black, long curls his grandmother said could not be cut.

However, the Tallarook Primary School student asked to have his hair cut in Year 2 because other boys teased him.

Mr Downie left Seymour High School in Form 4 to deliver telegrams for the town’s post office.

He rode his bicycle to deliver the telegrams and knew every street in the area, much like he knew the face of every person he met during his life.

One face specifically caught his eye at a 1962 dance at Tallarook Hall.

Family man

Val Lindell ignored Tom Downie the first time he talked to her.

The Wedderburn girl had moved to Seymour as a teacher in 1962.

‘‘I was on the floor dancing and someone not dancing was standing against the wall singing out loudly and obnoxiously, ’’ Mrs Downie, 71, said.

‘‘I said to my friend I was dancing with, ‘Who is that ape in the blue jumper?’.’’

Tom and Val married at a Geelong Anglican church on January 8, 1966.

The couple had three children — Jane, 43, Lisa, 41, and Sarah, 39.

The family lived at Sale, Seymour and Bendigo, with Mr Downie always supportive of his daughters’ schooling and sporting careers.

‘‘He was so different as dad off-court, ’’ Lisa said.

‘‘He was protective, loving, caring and supportive in everything he did. Any night after school, if we wanted a hit, he would take us to the courts and tell us, ‘Don’t worry about homework’.’’

Jane and Sarah played tennis at state level and Lisa played pennant in Melbourne, sporting talent they inherited from their father.

Tennis player

Gordon Downie was a talented cricketer and rifleman, so was disappointed when his only son chose to play tennis.

Mr Downie was aged 11 when he started playing competitively against adults at the Victorian Railway Institute.

He helped Seymour win its first A-grade Melbourne Country Week title in 1962 at Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club.

He was a supporter of Melbourne Country Week and Victorian Regional Championships tennis wherever he played.

Sale Tennis Club dedicated a page — titled The Arrival of Tom — to his contribution to the sport in the town in a book of its history.

Mr Downie won the Gippsland and Sale men’s singles titles for eight straight years.

He was president of the Bendigo Tennis Association when 30 hardcourts were built in 1983.

Downie family holidays and weekends were always planned around playing tennis, especially annual trips to the Deniliquin Easter Tournament.

‘‘It was such a lovely way to grow up, ’’ Lisa said.

Scorers were never needed when Mr Downie played because Mrs Downie would always sit behind his court and watch him play.

‘‘I used to keep score even though I couldn’t see the lines, ’’ she said.

‘‘If the three girls and Tom were playing next to each other, I would know the score on all four courts.’’

Mr Downie stopped hitting a single-handed backhand because he wanted a double-handed one as good as Sarah’s.

Sarah said the family could not go anywhere without her father spotting someone from tennis, or someone recognising him.

‘‘The grandchildren think their Pa is famous, ’’ she said.

Title winner

Mr Downie and his best friend Murray French talked on the phone every couple of days.

The best of those calls was when Mr Downie called Morwell star Mr French, now aged 71, asking him to be his doubles partner 16 years ago.

It started a partnership that won one world and seven Australian veterans doubles titles.

Mr Downie and Mr French won the men’s 65 age group doubles to help Australia win the Britannia Cup at the 2007 Super Seniors World Teams and Individual Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand.

‘‘That was the highlight of our careers, ’’ Mr French said.

The pair also played in Florida in 1998 and Turkey in 2003.

Mr French said his partner was the boss of their team who always told him either ‘‘the job’s right’’, ‘‘leave it to me’’ or ‘‘we’ve gotta lift’’.

The pair met as teenagers playing tennis across Victoria.

‘‘Tom had a wonderful serve and wonderful groundshots, ’’ Mr French said.

‘‘He was always the life of the party. With all the Victoria teams, if we were playing in Perth, he would organise accommodation for everybody.’’

Mr Downie also won two Australian veterans doubles titles with former Davis Cup representative Derek Arthurs, the father of retired professional Wayne.

Grumpy old men

A table was reserved for ‘‘The Grumpy Old Men’’ at the Butter Factory Cafe in Shepparton every Wednesday morning.

Mr Downie started the group of eight Shepparton Golf Club members about five years ago.

Group member Graham Scott said Mr Downie organised the weekly coffee meetings and regular golf trips.

‘‘He loved to stir, which I think was part of the magic between us, ’’ he said.

‘‘Most of it was the fun of being together, rather than the competitiveness of the golf.’’

Mr Scott said the group would keep meeting in honour of Mr Downie.

‘‘We have to keep going because it was something we all loved doing, ’’ he said.

‘‘Tom was a man just full of fun.’’

Shepparton life

Mr and Mrs Downie moved to Shepparton 20 years ago, where Mr Downie retired after 37 years working for BP.

He started at BP as an apprentice depot worker in Seymour before becoming a sales representative.

Mr Downie became a Shepparton Lawn Tennis Club champion and committee member.

He played for Shepparton Magpies in the past Goulburn-Murray Premier One season.

Lisa partnered her father in a mixed doubles tournament in May this year.

‘‘He just knew something was wrong because he didn’t think he played well, ’’ she said.

Mr French said knew his old partner was struggling during their last hit about a year ago.

‘‘The tennis part didn’t worry me, I just didn’t like to see him sick, ’’ he said.

‘‘He was a wonderful man. I won’t be the same with out him.’’

Tom Downie is survived by his wife Val, his sister Lois, his three daughters and eight grandchildren.

Tom Downie’s funeral is at St Augustine’s Anglican Church on Maude St, Shepparton, from 1pm today.

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