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OBITUARY: The visionary who brought year-round tennis to a Suffolk town

PUBLISHED: 19:05 06 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:09 07 November 2019

Jill and John Reed on their wedding day - January 1, 1955  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Jill and John Reed on their wedding day - January 1, 1955 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Archant

John, who has died at 86, was the driving force behind Suffolk's first winter dome. He turned a warehouse into a racquet centre, too. And ran a meat firm

Second Lieutenant JF Reed, The Royal Signals  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONSecond Lieutenant JF Reed, The Royal Signals Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

What a fine tribute from the tennis club that was such a big factor in his life: "Without John's foresight and commitment, the club that we all enjoy today would be a very different and much poorer facility."

As he built a career and raised a family - including starting a business in Bury St Edmunds that employed many local people - John Reed also devoted energy to the sport he'd loved since his early life: not just playing, but creating something for the future, for everyone to enjoy.

In 1990, for instance, he turned a warehouse in Sudbury into an indoor racquet centre. John was also a prominent member of Stowmarket Tennis Club (which gave that opening tribute). He was the driving force behind its move to a better site.

Then, in 2001, he masterminded the installation of a winter dome that meant tennis need not be halted by bad weather - virtually camping outside the LTA chief executive's office until he was able to gain funding for this innovative project, according to a friend. (The LTA is the sport's governing body in Great Britain.)

The dome has been one of the overriding factors in the continuing success of the club, says daughter Sue.

Her father was actually chairman of Stowmarket Tennis Club for many years. The organisation says: "He was instrumental in negotiating with the Dee Corporation (the company that wanted to build a supermarket on our land) our move from our old site behind the Rookery Bowls Club to our current location on the other side of Iliffe Way.

Love match: Jill and John in about 1950   Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONLove match: Jill and John in about 1950 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

"Thanks to him we moved from a very restricted three-court site with a rickety wooden shed as our clubhouse to the wonderful facilities we enjoy today.

"It was his vision which saw the dome come to Stowmarket. At the time, this was a very innovative project and few clubs in England, and certainly none in Suffolk, had a similar structure.

"Through his persistence, John won over the national LTA, (and) the county and district councils, to support the project and provide the grants and loan facilities that we required to meet the substantial financial outlay. The certainty of year-round tennis came to Stowmarket."

John became chairman of Suffolk Lawn Tennis Association in 2004, and continued to play competitively in later life - being chosen for the County Veterans team in his 70s.

Paid £150 per annum

John Reed, playing the game he loved   Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONJohn Reed, playing the game he loved Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

John was born on April 28, 1933, in Hornsey, north London.

He moved around a lot as a child, as his father was a Civil Service executive in charge of post office buildings for part of the country. John was often changing school, after his dad was posted to a new location, but he studied hard.

He was in Cheshire and Cornwall during the war, where he had a happy childhood despite the hostilities.

John wrote down some memories of his early adulthood. "I left school at 16 to work for the Civil Service in Dean's Yard (London) at the Department of Agricultural Research," he explained.

"I chose the Civil Service because my father, Harold Reed, was a civil servant; it was a good steady job where I knew what my income would be for the next 20 years (£150 per annum to start with and annual increments of £10)."

John's interest in tennis developed at about that time. He was 16 when he joined his local club in Putney, where he enjoyed both the competitive and social sides of the game.

Jill and John Reed on their wedding day - January 1, 1955  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONJill and John Reed on their wedding day - January 1, 1955 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

He was selected to play in the Wimbledon Junior Tournament, for under-18s. "We believe that he played in the first round but was unable to pursue this as the National Service call-up was imminent," says Sue.

On a happier note, the sport led him to his wife-to-be.

John and Jill met at the club in Putney when they were 16. They were engaged at 18, before National Service, and married at 21 on January 1, 1955 - a very cold day, apparently. Their honeymoon was a skiing holiday in Austria.

The couple went on to have four children (Christopher, Kim, Philip and Susan) and six grandchildren.

Sadly, Jill died on September 9 - six weeks before her husband.

John at an LTA meeting in about 2000   Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONJohn at an LTA meeting in about 2000 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

To East Anglia

After his spell with the army, John had his first taste of the retail business - with Marks and Spencer. He then moved into the food sector and had four years as sales manager with a big food group.

After that, he was in charge of the marketing efforts of 16 factories. He did that for about seven years.

The family moved to Suffolk in 1965, with John becoming marketing director for St Edmunds Bacon Factory at Elmswell.

The Reeds lived in the village. Then in 1967 they bought a rambling old farmhouse at Tot Hill, Haughley, and spent years renovating it. John knocked down walls, put in a new kitchen, installed central heating and replaced the wiring.

In 1973 he and Jill set up their own meat wholesaling business, Leancut Ltd, in Bury St Edmunds. Supplying quality packed bacon to caterers and shops within about a 50-mile radius, it gave work to a sizeable number of people.

At Stowmarket Tennis Club, which played a huge part in family life   Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONAt Stowmarket Tennis Club, which played a huge part in family life Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Leancut was based originally in Lower Baxter Street, but it wasn't long before it moved to a bigger factory on Northern Way.

Launching the company gave John the chance to put his own ideas into practice. It allowed the couple to work together, too. Jill put in the hours to help build up the enterprise, and even though she was a director of the firm she also wasn't averse to tackling whatever needed doing - from decorating the offices to cleaning.

Leancut closed in the late 1970s/early '80s, but there were more adventures to come.

Ambition achieved

The opening of Sudbury Racquet Centre in 1990 was for John the realisation of a long-held dream.

John, at Stowmarket Tennis Club  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONJohn, at Stowmarket Tennis Club Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

As well as offering facilities for his beloved tennis, the former warehouse in Cornard Road had two glass-backed squash courts, with another couple to follow.

Two full-size indoor tennis courts could also be used for badminton, table-tennis and short tennis. There was also a bar.

John, who said the idea of opening such a centre had always been his ambition, also brought in a couple of professional tennis and squash coaches to help members hone their skills.

Always adventurous

In his later years, John became a keen artist and exhibited work with Stowmarket Art Club at the United Reformed Church.

He and Jill were always adventurous. When the children were young, in the early 1970s, the family went camping in France, Germany and Belgium. In their 60s the couple travelled in New Zealand and Canada, later buying a camper van so they could get about the UK.

John loved his adopted Suffolk. "We always had dogs and he was a keen walker, enjoying the countryside," says Sue.

After their children left home, Jill and John moved to Buxhall, and later to Stowmarket. "He was active in our local church: firstly Elmswell and then when they moved to Buxhall."

The couple were always involved in village fetes, too.

A service of thanksgiving, to celebrate the life of John, is being held at Buxhall Church on Saturday, November 9. It begins at 11am. All are welcome and there will be refreshments in the church afterwards.

"My father was a kind and generous man. He was also an eternal optimist - always seeing the positive side of a situation and of other people," says Sue.

"He played an active role in community life and contributed hugely to his village and tennis life. We will all miss him."

The Royal Signals

We know about John's time in national service because he wrote down his experiences with the Royal Signals (from 1952 to 1954).

"My National Service call-up was deferred because I had passed the Civil Service exam to become an executive officer… At 19 years old I joined the Royal Signals, also chosen because my father had been in the Signals, and set off to Catterick to join my regiment.

"I was assigned to 7TR (Training Regiment) for six weeks of basic training. At the time there was a scandal, widely reported in the newspapers, about self-important lance corporals running around like demi-gods, making recruits scrape varnish off chairs and other pointless tasks in an effort to break the spirit of the soldiers.

"After three weeks I was transferred to 4TR, where I was assessed for officer potential.

"Luckily my commanding officer, despite telling me I hadn't a hope in hell, put me forward for the selection trials. This of course made me determined to get through and so I was sent to officer selection at Barton Stacey (Hampshire) for a few days, where the WOSB (War Office Selection Board) put me through my paces.

"The tests involved leading a team of people to do things like building a bridge and getting people across a river whilst keeping their rifles dry. I got the team to build a raft, to which I attached rope so they could pull it back to get the whole team across the river."

John was duly selected for officer cadet training.

Loudest voice ever?

"Officer cadet training took place at Aldershot, where RSM (regimental sergeant major) Brittain, a notorious sergeant major reputed to have the loudest voice ever, was in charge.

"Training involved lots of square-bashing and being marched around, with plenty of insults bandied about by the RSM. We had to polish endless buttons and were basically learning to obey orders.

"At the end of the training Johnny Morris was chosen as course leader and won the Sword of Honour as the best cadet. I came second. This meant we could choose our postings. Morris chose Cyprus, the plum posting, and I chose the second best, which was to Austria."

A female batman

"For my posting to Austria my father painted a box for my kit; it was black, with my rank and name written on it: Second Lieutenant JF Reed.

"In 1952 I was sent to Klagenfurt, on the Wörthersee. On arrival in Austria I was met from the Medloc train by an officer, the one I was replacing. The officer showed me round, introduced me, and then promptly left on the train I had arrived on.

"I lived in the barracks in the officers' quarters, where I was allocated a female batman (batwoman!). She was Austrian, about 50 years old, so rather like a substitute mother."

I saw duvets

"The Royal Signals' role was to direct communications from Austria back to the War Office. They set up wireless sets, incorporating bigger transmitters, around Austria. I had no idea what I was communicating back to London; my job was to keep communication lines open and to look after the equipment.

"I was in Austria for more than 18 months and on the whole enjoyed the experience. I saw duvets for the first time, beautiful scenery and discovered that in the winter in Klagenfurt they ran hot water through the pipes to keep the sewers unfrozen."

Riots in Trieste

"I was sent to Trieste (Italy) to provide communications during the riots in November 1953.

"I was in charge of setting up dipole aerials around Trieste. We would park the Jeep and set up the aerials around it, making sure they were earthed.

"A dipole comprises straight wires between two poles to reflect waves wherever they had to go, and had to be placed correctly in order to receive signals. Signals would bounce across the mountains to the next communications point.

"The riots were between the Yugoslavs and the Italians. I didn't feel that it was dangerous to be in Trieste as I spent most of my time in a Jeep. One job was to tour around at night in my Jeep, checking on each radio point."

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