Fitzwilliam tennis club elects first woman president in 140 years

Helen Shields becomes first woman to take on role since foundation of club in 1877

Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club: began accepting women members 20 years ago. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club: began accepting women members 20 years ago. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

The Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club in Dublin, one of the world’s oldest tennis clubs, has elected its first woman president in almost 140 years.

Helen Shields, nee Hackett, who had been deputy president for two years, was confirmed as the new president this week. She assumed the role from retiring president Pat Hurley.

Founded in 1877, the Fitzwilliam club first decided to allow women to become members 20 years ago, when a two-thirds majority, 429 to 159, voted for the rule change after just one hour of debate at an extraordinary general meeting.

Previous meetings had voted to change the rule but had not succeeded in getting a two-thirds majority.

A daughter of the Irish Davis Cup player Joe Hackett, Ms Shields follows him into the role, as Mr Hackett was president of the club in 1977, its centenary year.

World players

Ms Shields has been involved at various levels within the sport and has helped to reinvigorate the women’s Irish Open event and have it installed in the Irish tennis calendar.

In the 1960s and 1970s the best women tennis players in the world travelled to Dublin for the tournament. Virginia Wade, Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and Evonne Goolagong Cawley are all former winners.

A long-serving official said Ms Shields was “formidable” and “would give the impression that she is no pushover and conducts herself in a businesslike manner.”

The club, which has 2,000 members, originated in Upper Pembroke Street before moving to Wilton Place and from there to Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin city.

The final move to its current location in Appian Way came in 1969.

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