20 Jun 2023

It is with great sadness that the passing of Diane Schöler is announced; diagnosed with pancreatic cancer some 14 months ago, she died on Monday 19th June.

Honorary President of the Swaythling Club International, recently on Friday 14th April, she had celebrated her 90th birthday, at the time the oldest living world champion.

An outstanding servant to the sport of table tennis, it is by her maiden name that she will always be remembered; partnering her 20 minutes younger twin sister Rosalind, who sadly passed away in 2015, they became national celebrities.

They won the women’s doubles title at the 1951 World Championships in Vienna, before in 1954 regaining the title in London, both incredible feats, both record breaking occasions that still stand today; one wonders if their achievements will ever be equalled.

In 1951, they were 17 years and 320 days old when they lifted high the prestigious W.J. Pope trophy, to this date, the youngest pair ever to secure the women’s doubles title at a World Championships.

At the time, neither possessed a World ranking; in the final they caused one of the greatest upsets of all time; cheered on by British forces, they beat the odds-on favourites, Romania’s Angelica Rozeanu and Sari Sartz.

Remarkable, even more remarkable was 1954 in London, when they regained the women’s doubles title on their 21st birthday, has that happened in any other sport?

Furthermore, in 1960 Diane was the first-ever winner of the women’s singles title at the English National Championships; in fact, she won all three available titles, the women’s doubles partner Jill Mills, and the mixed doubles alongside Johnny Leach. She was to win the women’s singles title in the subsequent two editions as well as in 1964, forming a most successful women’s doubles partnership with Mary Wright.

The successes gained by Diane Rowe could fill an encyclopedia, but arguably more important is the effect that, alongside Rosalind and Johnny Leach, she had on the sport of table tennis.

Thousands welcomed the twins home from Vienna in 1951, incredible scenes; more than 10,000 spectators willed them to victory in the Wembley arena three years later.

Even if you knew nothing about table tennis, you knew about the Rowe twins, a fact endorsed by Sandra Deaton, Chair of Table Tennis England.

“When I came into the sport over half a century ago, I was introduced to the incredible global performances and achievements of the Rowe twins. I remember clearly being in awe of such iconic women. As time moved on and travelling the world, I had the privilege not only to meet Diane but to spend some quality time with her. She was an unassuming lady with immense humility. Her understanding of the sport throughout the decades knew no bounds, she was always willing to help and support the progress of the game. English Table Tennis has evolved as a result of the history Diane gave us, her induction into the Centenary Hall of Fame will provide a platform to make sure our heritage is never forgotten. Thank you to Ebby and her family for allowing us all to share in Diane’s life. Global table tennis will always be indebted to her for her unfailing dedication. She will be sorely missed but never ever forgotten. I hope that the family gets comfort knowing that as the sport of table tennis continues so does the legacy of the incredible Diane.” Sandra Deaton, Chair Table Tennis England

Quite simply, Diane Schöler was an inspiration; one player in particular motivated by her efforts was Jill Parker (the former Jill Hammersley), the 1976 European champion.

“A wonderful ambassador for the sport, who will be sorely missed by all her table tennis friends and fans from around the world. Di performed with distinction for the two countries she represented, England and Germany. Her performances in women’s doubles with her twin sister Ros were legendary. She was an inspiration to many players around Europe, including myself. Condolences to Ebby and the family at this sad time.” Jill Parker.

The sadness of the Table Tennis community is shared by Claude Bergeret, President of the Swaythling Club International:

I am extremely saddened by the news; everyone looked up to Diane whether as a player or an administrator. She always set the perfect example and was delighted in presenting the Richard Bergmann Fair Play Trophy alongside her husband, Ebby, at the conclusion of a World Championships; the award epitomized her attitude towards sport, give your best, never seek an unfair advantage and when the contest has finished, shake hands and be friends. Diane was a most hard-working President of the Swaythling Club International, an organization dear to her heart. I am proud to follow in her footsteps.

The ITTF Executive Board also extends condolences to Mr Schöler and his family. ITTF President, Petra Sörling, remembers Diane Schöler with these words:

My first World Championships as a delegate was in 2005 in Shanghai, I was not sure what to expect, it was a new venture, but Diane immediately put me at ease. At the time, President of the Swaythling Club International, she invited me to her office and showed what I could only describe as “sisterhood”; kindly, she told me she was there to support and if I needed any help, just ask. The support could not have been better, vast experience, a top player in her era, a World champion and, with playing days over, a highly respected official; I felt warm and sincerity in her words; she was welcoming and displayed her love for the sport. For me, a role model, a shining example.”.

The table tennis world extends condolences to the Schöler family, Ebby, Cindy and Christian.

General News