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Farewell to Sam Leigh 1936 - 2023

Feb 01, 2023

Sam Leigh - September 21, 1936 - January 27, 2023

A message from Julian Snow

I was both shocked and saddened to learn that Sam Leigh died on 27 January 2023. I last saw Sam at Colin Dean’s memorial service event in Brookman’s Park in May 2022, where he appeared to my untrained eye to be in good health. We had not seen each other for many years. He excitedly told me that he and Esther had long since abandoned suburban Pinner in favour of a central London apartment in St Paul’s, where they looked forward to enjoying their remaining retirement years. I am very sorry that this time has been cut short.

Sam made a significant contribution to Real Tennis administration in the period approximately 1990 – 2010. For many years he was chairman of the T&RA Tennis Tournament and Fixtures Sub-Committee, which role he performed admirably.

These days, at least from my detached distance, Tennis politics appear tranquil. Regrettably, this was not always the case. In those days the ladies were militant, the professionals were revolting and overseas relations were troublesome. Amateur Tennis administrators such as myself, Colin and Sam endured a difficult and tiresome time. The moral high ground, which we flattered ourselves we occupied, could be a lonely and exposed place. I will always be grateful to Sam for his unwavering support during my time as the T&RA Tennis Committee Chairman.

Sam’s primary Tennis role was as the (efficient and effective) organiser of the British Open. No other Open attracted the same strength of entry, sponsorship or publicity. Professional players often complained to me of the supposed paucity of prize money. It seemed to me that the opposite was the case: British Land provided no less that £80,000 per year to what after all is the ultimate minor sport. I was aware that some within British Land considered this expense to be an indulgence on the part of its chairman and chief executive John (now Sir John) Ritblat, which of course it was. Sam developed an especially warm co-operation with John Ritblat, which I believe was decisive in prolonging the beneficial T&RA / British Land partnership.

Sam was also a dedicated player. He was ever present within the MCC Tennis community. It seemed impossible to play there, either casually or competitively, without seeing Sam, which for me at least was always a pleasure.

Always being fit for his age, Sam enjoyed considerable success in veteran doubles events. My memory is insufficiently precise to recall details, but it is fair to say that his triumphs resulted not only from his on-court skills but also from his ability to select a very strong partner.

I shall remember Sam fondly, and Real Tennis in this country owes him a great debt.

Julian Snow

A tribute from Brian Sharp

Sam Leigh, who sadly died on the 27th of January, was a Member of MCC for 52 years having been elected in 1971 and he was on the Tennis and Squash sub Committee between 2006 - 2012.

He was a match manager for many years culminating finally with the matches against Wellington and the Dedanists. He was actively playing Tennis in his mid eighties which illustrates the efficacious effect of our great game.

He toured America several times and also France and Australia with MCC and, most winters, he and Esther went to New York to renew his friendship with Howard McMorris and others at the Racket Club.

He won numerous competitions as a player having carefully selected a good partner, and he played many matches for MCC both home and away. Playing doubles with him was an experience and woe betide anyone who served a double fault, a problem from which he himself was not entirely immune.

In the pre Covid years his second home was the dedans at Lord's where he could be found most days dealing with various administrative matters whose relevance to MCC was not entirely clear. However the great advantage of him being there was that coaching to many of the players on court at the time was provided free of charge.

Sam did not want a funeral but he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered at Lord's. We hope this will happen in the future so that his many friends can be there to remember him

Brian Sharp

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