By Raymond Brock
BM March 2000
With the death of Rita Oldroyd in mid-January the bridge world has lost one of its more colourful and endearing characters - there are very few left.
My early bridge-playing days were spent first in Manchester and then in Bradford, before I moved to the extreme North (Scotland) as the Southerners would have it. One couldn’t avoid Rita; she was everywhere, generally playing with John Taylor and a little later with her Leeds team of Irving Manning, Joe Bloomberg, and Alf Finlay, sometimes with the assistance of Eric Newman. I was pleased to be invited to join this team and I remember wins in the Hubert Philips and Crockfords but losing in the final of the Gold Cup to Harrison-Gray, \ Priday, Sharples \ Sharples and Gardener \ Rose. Sadly Rita lost another final but was never to join the handful of women players who have won the Gold Cup.
Not only could Rita talk the hind legs off a donkey, but you could recognise her across a crowded room. She liked to stamp her personality on all around her and she did this in part by wearing startling but entertaining clothes that she had generally made herself, often at the bridge table. She would knit between rounds and when she was dummy, although when the play was finished she knew as much about the hand as declarer. Her character was included in the book, Trick Thirteen by Reese and Flint.
Rita was a winner. She never knew how to concede, let alone when she should do so. Her game was based on aggressive bidding, a real flair for the game and nerve. She backed her instincts and was prepared to be wrong. In an international she once played a slam with king other (in dummy) and jack to three in hand with the opponent over dummy having opened the bidding. The twelfth trick had to come from this suit so Rita played up to the king and, seemingly without thought, ducked. Yes, it was the bare ace or there wouldn’t have been a story.
Her abilities carried her to two wins in the European Championship: in 1976 playing with Charley Esterson and in 1979 playing with Nicola Gardener. To add to these wins were silver and bronze medals in the Olympiad and a silver medal in the Venice Cup, the Women’s World Championship. On the domestic front she was the first woman Grand Master (and fifth in the open list), in September 1968, and the first woman to play a Camrose match (with Rene Corwen). The number of Lady Milne Trophies in which she played are legion.
She remained an optimist with a mischievous sense of fun, determined not to be cowed no matter what life threw at her. There were some bad times: a war widow with a baby when she was scarcely out of her teens, the death of a grandson in a road traffic accident, the dramatically failing eyesight in the last six or seven years. She still played bridge and won but appalled her friends by driving to matches when it was clear that she couldn’t really see the other traffic. Driving, which she took to after she retired, was never her strong point! She talked her way out of at least two speeding fines. For once she conceded defeat and didn’t drive for the last two years of her life.
Everyone who knew her will miss her, as well many who didn’t know her personally. British bridge owes her a great deal. Rita and her team gave several players who went on to become internationals an excellent grounding. Apart from myself and my wife, Tony Sowter, Tony Forrester, Brian Senior, Roman Smolski and Sandra Penfold among others benefited from this experience.
Despite her prominence in the bridge community, her family was everything to Rita. She will be specially missed by her children, Michael, Elizabeth and Graham, as well as numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Major International Appearances
Women's European Championships: 1958 1973 1974 1975* and 1979*
Venice Cup: 1976
Women's World Olympiad: 1976 and 1980
* = 1st place
Camrose Trophy Selections: 1960 and 1964
Lady Milne selections: 1958 1961 1962 1970 1971 1975 1982 1983 and 1984
Crockfords Cup Winner: 1969
The Hubert Phillips Bowl Winner: 1963 and 1968
Tollemache Cup winner: 1965 and 1968