20 May 2022 | Tennis ACT

It is with great sadness that Tennis ACT acknowledges the recent passing of Bob Thornton, a true legend of tennis in Canberra.

Arriving in Canberra in the sixties, Bob joined Turner Tennis Club, later becoming Club President and a Life Member.

In 1970, a pivotal year for tennis in Canberra, Bob had a major influence, firstly as a Foundation Member of the National Tennis and Squash Centre established at Lyneham and secondly as the first President of the Seniors Branch (later Veterans Association) for local senior tennis players. A first in Australia.

His close and lasting friendship with Ken Willis, Charlie Boag and Graham Bartlett, along with many others, saw the ACT host national veterans championships and establish a national reputation for veterans/seniors tennis at Lyneham. Bob, more than any other individual, established the administrative and support structure to allow the ACT seniors to ‘punch well above their weight at the national and international level’. A legacy which continues to the present day.

Bob was awarded an Australian Sports Medal in 2001 and Tennis Seniors ACT Life Membership in 2014 for his contribution to tennis. Along with the support of his wife Shirley, who passed away in 2020, Bob was a tireless worker who enjoyed the game, a good drink and played tennis for fitness, friendship and fun.

His infectious humour, energy and enthusiasm were renowned as were the stories told about him.

Ken Willis, in speaking of Bob, wrote:

“Bob was in an ACT team playing in the Veterans Event in Newcastle. It was significant that Bob Hawke, a regular tennis player, was the Prime Minister at the time. In the teams event Bob collapsed – I think he served an ace and was suffering from shock!! The Newcastle Committee man was very concerned and rang for an ambulance. He said ‘Bob from Canberra was ill and needed hospitalisation’. Three ambulances arrived in great haste, believing it was Bob Hawke – only to find it was our Bob Thornton!!!”

At the 50th Anniversary of Seniors Tennis ACT Bob’s contribution was glowingly acknowledged; the last living member of the original 1970 Veterans Committee. Now with his passing, Canberra tennis has lost a ‘larger than life’ character who has left a lasting legacy of tennis as a true ‘sport for life’. We all owe him a great debt.

Image: Left to right > Tennis Seniors 40th Anniversary Dinner Graham Bartlett, Leo Lonergan, Jean Manning, Arthur Brown, Bob Thornton and Harry Gibbs