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Rachael Heyhoe-Flint: A Tribute

PUBLISHED

16:10 18th January 2017

A look back on a life lived to the absolute full

Baroness Rachael Heyhoe Flint was so many things to so many different people.


Friend, teacher, cricketer. Hockey player, coach, journalist. Confidante, charity worker, after dinner speaker.


Director, Deputy Lieutenant, Vice-President, Member of the British Empire.  Officer of the British Empire, and Baroness.


But above all else? A lady with a voracious appetite for life, and with a heart of gold which extended way beyond the colours of her favourite and beloved football team.


No matter who you were, or what you did, Rachael would always have the time to share a word, a joke, or a good deed or two. No, not just one or two good deeds. So many more. So many more.


It is almost ironic that she would spare the time for so many people, because, even in her more advancing years, she dashed around with the seemingly unbridled delight and fervour of a toddler heading out on to the school playground.


And yet, yes, she always, always, had time for other people.


To ‘Rachaelise’  or to ‘be Rachaelised’ became a verb, unique to the Molineux dictionary.


Meaning? Well here are your instructions, listen and digest them, and leave no stone unturned to fulfil whatever it is that you are being asked to do!  All with a cheery smile and grin accompanied by that wicked sense of humour.


‘I've been Rachaelised.’ That was the regular comment from her dear friend and fellow long-term Wolves devotee Graham Hughes when the Baroness darted in and out of  Molineux leaving an incessant trail of good-natured orders in her slipstream.


She loved her work and her association with Wolves, and Wolves loved having her. 


Having been born in the city, and attended Wolverhampton Girls’ High School, she was a lifelong fan of the club, standing in the ‘Cowshed’ (North Bank) with her brother in her formative years, sneaking a brick into the ground in a hessian bag to stand on to improve her view of the action. 


Later, having worked as a freelance journalist during her cricketing career, Rachael was thrilled to head up Wolves’ Public Relations programme for over a decade.


But nowhere near as thrilled as the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of those people whose lives were brightened up even just a little bit as a result of her selfless endeavours.


A cheeky request for help for funding for an England women’s cricket tour to a certain Sir Jack Hayward back in 1970 had sparked a firm friendship that lasted for 45 years until his passing just over two years ago.


Rachael’s emotional and heartfelt 20 minute tribute at Sir Jack’s memorial service was delivered in her own unique style and with meticulous precision, drawing applause both from inside St Peter’s Church and from the hundreds more watching via a big screen in Queen’s Square.


It was Sir Jack who invited Rachael onto the Wolves Board in 1997. 


She was later to become Vice-President, although, let's be honest, she never needed a grand title to be an awe-inspiring presence to all, not only in and around the Club, but across the City of Wolverhampton as a whole.


A Head of PE at both Northicote School and then the Municipal Grammar School, it was in the world of sport that the young and ambitious Heyhoe-Flint had already burst to the fore. 


Having already played in goal for the England hockey team, it was in the art of the leather on willow that Rachael proved a trail-blazing pioneer, faithful and true.


A career of 22 test matches for England included a series of firsts; a then world record score of 179 against Australia in 1976; captain of the first England women’s team to play at Lord’s; hitting the first six in a women’s Test match. 


And then later – becoming television’s first female commentator, among the first female members admitted to Lord’s exclusive Marylebone Cricket Club, one of the first two female appointees to the England and Wales Cricket Board, and the first woman to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame.  If there were any obstacles in her path, the unfaltering Heyhoe-Flint would simply plough right on through. 


To ensure that international women’s cricket got its fair share of column inches, she would often disappear to her hotel room after a day at the crease to produce write-ups for all manner of national media. “I made I sure I gave myself some good coverage,” she once said with a huge grin. 


Presumably chronicling such positive coverage wasn’t too difficult for one of her big cricketing achievements, captaining England to victory in the inaugural World Cup in 1973. 


The post-cricketing career took Rachael into the media and the after-dinner circuit - where she won awards, of course! - and she also co-authored a history of women’s cricket. 


But where her light perhaps shone brightest, and where her legacy will undoubtedly live on, is in the charity work in and around the local community and beyond, which made such a positive and crucial difference to so many lives.


People who were at their lowest ebb, people who had fallen on hard times, or just needed a gentle nudge in the right direction, it didn’t matter. Make no mistake, Rachael Heyhoe-Flint was there. She would never turn them away. 


President of the Lady Taverners, Rachael was a huge influence in raising millions of pounds to help young people with special needs or from disadvantaged backgrounds. There are so many people across the country today who owe so much to this relentless and fiercely determined lady who just refused to take ‘no’ for an answer. 


It was her work within the community on behalf of Wolves which brought so many people into contact with the football club.


Not for Rachael a quick hello, fleeting photo opportunity, and that would be that. 


She made it her business to keep in touch with all those she came into contact with, only recently, despite being seriously ill, making a point of passing on her best wishes to an severely disabled and terminally ill  Wolves supporter for whom she had organised the first wheelchair donated by the club over 20 years ago. 


Little wonder then that she was honoured with the Freedom of Wolverhampton back in April, 2011.  Sadly we don’t think she ever did get the opportunity to drive sheep and cattle through the City Centre as promised in those rules and regulations. But, if anyone was going to try and actually take advantage of that historical privilege, it would have been Rachael. Without a doubt. 


Awarded an MBE in 1972, and OBE in 2008, and appointed Deputy Lieutenant of the West Midlands in between times in 1995, it was in 2011 that Rachael was invited by then Prime Minister David Cameron to sit in the House of Lords as a Conservative Party peer. It was a title, and a role, tackled with customary and indefatigable gusto. 


And, throughout all, her love of Wolves remained undiminished, through the good times and the bad. 


When Sir Jack was away on his regular cruises, Rachael was a mixture of the BBC videoprinter and a fore-runner to social media by providing regular updates on Wolves’ matchday fortunes.  Wherever he was in the world, he would know how Wolves were doing. At whatever part of footballing dry land in which she was situated that particular afternoon or evening, Rachael made sure she kept him informed. 


Still revered, still loved, her passing leaves a gaping Rachael-size hole which it is impossible to fill.  It is difficult to believe she has gone.  And nowhere will that sadness be felt more painfully than amongst her family and closest friends and former colleagues. 


The thoughts of everyone at Wolves are with Rachael’s husband Derrick, son Ben, step-children Rowan, Hazel and Simon, and her brother Nicholas.  And all of her extended family and friends.


Wolverhampton has – to pinch the phrase now synonymous with her dear friend Sir Jack – lost one of its own.

 

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