The Chelmsford League Committee was sad to learn of the passing of Hugh Piper in April 2021. Hugh was heavily involved in Chelmsford table tennis over several decades both as a player and administrator. A tribute from his friend, Francis Whitbread, follows.
My dear friend Hugh Piper, who sadly passed away in April, was a leading light in Chelmsford table tennis over many years, both as a player and administrator, serving on the league management committee for many years, including as chairman. When I first encountered Hugh as an opponent, he was playing for the St John Payne club, which in its previous existence was Chelmsford Table Tennis Club, a very appropriate home for Hugh as he was Chelmsford born and bred.
In the summer of 1991, Highwood Table Tennis Club needed another player for our A team for the forthcoming season of the Chelmsford Table Tennis League, and as the club's then secretary, I decided, in footballing parlance, to venture into the transfer market. I can't remember why Hugh was my target, but what I do know is that he agreed to join us, which on a personal note, was very good for me, as it marked the beginning of almost 30 years of friendship with Hugh, Pat, Tim and Alastair.
I may have earmarked Hugh because he was what might be described as Chelmsford table tennis royalty, a member of the League management committee of very long standing, and so represented a “big name signing”. I am sure it would have brought a smile to his face to be regarded as such, as I am certain his close involvement with the league arose from his desire to actively support the running of the sport he enjoyed so much. The four seasons I had playing with Hugh and our team mate Chris English were among the very best and enjoyable I have had.
Hugh was never wasteful with his words, but had a dry sense of humour, and I have happy memories of laughter filled times in his company. He was also unflappable; one evening he came up against a table tennis opponent of the type we have all played from time to time; someone who got very aggravated when his opponent had a lucky shot, while completely ignoring his own flukes. This particular gentleman took exception to Hugh apparently failing to apologise for a lucky edge; quick as a flash Hugh replied: “Yes I did; I apologised with my eyes!” The belligerent at the other end of the table could only manage a mumbled “Oh, OK” in response.
On another occasion, he was playing a vital match at the old Highwood village hall, at the season’s end which he really needed to win so we could secure promotion to a higher division the next year. In using his bat to retrieve the ball, which had become lodged under a stack of chairs at the far end of the hall, he broke it. He casually removed an ancient bat from his bag, played even better than before, and proceeded to win the game and secure us promotion.
Hugh hung up his bat as far as competitive table tennis was concerned at the end of the 1995/1996 season, but continued a close involvement with the league for many years afterwards. He and Pat we a feature of the league championships for so many years, running the refreshment stall, and he was a regular at finals night. For many years, one of the highlights of the year was the annual Chelmsford Table Tennis League Quiz at Writtle. As well as Chris and Wendy Hibbitt’s excellent quizzes, there was the opportunity to spend another enjoyable evening in the company of the Piper family.
Hugh passed his love of table tennis on to his son Alastair, playing with him when he was starting out, and Alastair continues to play in the league to this day. Talking with him, I know he carries on his father’s philosophy on the game, that enjoyment of the evening is the key thing.
Like so many of us, contact with friends over the last year has been severely curtailed, and I have missed Hugh’s twinkling eyes, his smile, his dry sense of humour, but the memory of them will remain in my mind. To sum up Hugh Piper the man I will leave the final words to his other son Tim, who told me his father was a man of complete integrity; how true that was.
I hope others who knew Hugh through table tennis will share their fond memories of him via the league website.