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Geoff Rofe, badminton’s ultimate volunteer

BADMINTON ENGLAND paid tribute today to its former President Geoff Rofe BEM, who passed away peacefully in the early hours of Monday at the age of 94.

Chief Executive Adrian Christy said: “Badminton has lost a man totally committed to the sport throughout his life. He loved attending tournaments and being involved but was never happier than at the Yonex All England Open Championships and the English National Championships. He loved catching up with all the people who worked on these events year after year, especially the volunteers.

“For 60 years he devoted his time to badminton and in an unpaid and voluntary capacity throughout that time.

“No role was too small; he was perfectly content doing the small but vital tasks like handing out the meal tickets to the staff and volunteers. It kept him in touch with the people who were the lifeblood of the Championships, his fellow volunteers. He knew everyone in badminton and made sure everyone got to know him.”

This from a man who passed up a county trial for Kent because of his obligations as a church usher – and never got the chance of a trial again! That may have been Kent’s loss, but the county and the country could never have imagined the long-time commitment they would get from Geoff off the court.

For the Rofe family were to become the pumping heart of the sport. Geoff’s wife Nora – they were together more than 60 years – worked alongside him at many of the events big or small, but especially the Wembley and Birmingham YONEX All England’s and the English National Championships all round the country, while son Raymond was an England player and still coaches today and Ray’s brother, David, was an administrator and tournament referee.

Ray recalls that at one time the family worked out that Geoff was serving on 50 committees such was his commitment to the sport and the people he was encouraging and inspiring.

In his working life Geoff was a director at the family’s foundry down the road from where he lived in Dartford and the family also had two sports shops. Geoff was also a great football fan – he was a season ticket holder at his local Dartford FC and a fan of Sunderland AFC and Ian Little recalls Geoff taking the touring China badminton team to his one and only game at Roker Park. And at Geoff’s 90th birthday party, Ian presented him with a Sunderland shirt.

But badminton was Geoff’s passion ever since he began playing at East Hill Baptist Church and J. E. Halls A. E. Rofe & Sons in Dartford and he was a key figure in county badminton since 1948. He coached and organised badminton at Dartford YMCA alongside Sir Mick Jagger’s PE teacher father ‘Joe’, who coached basketball, and later Geoff became chairman of Dartford YMCA.

There was a pivotal moment a few years ago when Geoff attended a school reunion at Dartford Grammar and spotted the rock star across the room. Far from being daunted, not only did he go over and introduce himself but then sat down to explain to a surprised Jagger that they were distant relatives. (Geoff’s and Jagger Snr’s grandmothers were sisters).

From 1948 onwards Geoff held just about every voluntary role with the Kent County committee as they became one of the strongest counties in England and it boasted 300 clubs and produced a string of top-class players, including England internationals Sue and Paul Whetnall, Maggie Boxall and Ray Sharp and, of course, Geoff’s son Ray. “We were the best one-court club in the country,” recalls Ray.

In 2005 he stepped down from Kent duties on the association becoming a limited company. But far from being a step back, it was a case of onward and upwards because in 2010 he was elected President of Badminton England, having served on the BE council since 1971 and been Vice President since 1992. He had also served on the Inter-County Championship Committee since 1968.

As President, he, chairman Derek Batchelor and Adrian Christy, worked closely as the national governing body prepared for the BWF World Championships at Wembley Arena in 2011 and the Olympics in 2012 and, as ever, Geoff was in his element even though by now he was in his eighties. At the end of his Presidency in 2016 he was made an Honorary Life Vice President.

His reputation by then had already gained recognition at international level, having received the Badminton World Federation’s Meritorious Service Award in 1987.

His reward for a lifetime involvement in badminton and, not to be underestimated, his services to young people was the British Empire Medal in the 2020 New Year’s Honours List. Sadly, because of Covid restrictions, he has passed away before the official presentation could take place although his friends in Kent are hoping for a posthumous ceremony.

As Kent Badminton Association summed it up on their Facebook page: “Geoff, we will miss you massively.”

You can sleep well now Mr President, knowing you contributed so much.

A tribute page has been set up for Geoff here where you can access the funeral remotely and also offers an opportunity for people to add their own personal tributes/memories of Geoff. Donation are being welcomed to the fund that has been set-up to help disadvantaged / disabled youngsters in Kent play badminton.

The funeral will be held next Friday 10th December at 1-15pm.