Obituary: Annabel Pennefather was a trailblazer for women in sport
Sports fraternity pays tribute to Pennefather, who died yesterday at age 71
The Singapore sporting fraternity hailed Annabel Pennefather as a trailblazer for women in sport, following her death at the age of 71 yesterday due to heart failure.
The former national hockey player came from sporting stock, with her mother Ruth also a former national player and her father Percy famously captaining Singapore's hockey team at the 1956 Olympic Games.
Pennefather captained the national women's hockey team for a decade, was a pioneering female sports administrator - making her mark on both the local and international stage - and an accomplished lawyer.
While the fullback had a storied sporting career, she had an operation in 1996 after it was discovered that she had a 2.5cm hole in her heart.
Pennefather broke the glass ceiling on several fronts, becoming the Singapore National Olympic Council's (SNOC) first female executive committee member (1999) and vice-president (2002), the first female chef de mission at the Commonwealth Games (2002) and Olympics (2004), plus the Singapore Hockey Federation's (SHF) first woman president (2004).
Former national teammate Melanie Martens said the attributes that made her an ideal sports administrator were apparent from her playing days.
Martens, who scored the winner when Singapore won their only SEA Games hockey gold in 1993, first met Pennefather when she was called up to the national team as a 14-year-old in 1974.
She told The New Paper: "My first impression of her was (that) she was graceful but fiercely competitive. She knew how to win and also be a good sport when we didn't.
"Great clarity of thought, she analysed the game very well and was able to bring people together. It was a forerunner of who she was to become. She had the ability to be clear about directions, about how to work with people and how to get the best out of everyone."
The 59-year-old added that Pennefather, who was national captain from 1970 to 1980, was the personification of what was wonderful about being a woman.
The Singapore Council of Women's Organisations said Pennefather was supposed to be inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame last month, but the ceremony was postponed till next March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Said Martens: "Annabel, to me, was an epitome of all that was so powerful and wonderful about a woman.
"You could be gentle and feminine and yet still reach your potential without having to take on any masculine qualities...
"You're emotional, so what?
"You cry, you laugh, you're emotional, you're sensitive and you can still get where you want to get. She was a role model for all women, not just to break the glass ceiling but to believe in yourself."
Singapore Bowling Federation president Jessie Phua counted Pennefather as her mentor, having served alongside her on SNOC's executive committee from 2014 to 2018.
The 65-year-old described the former hockey captain as a trailblazer and pioneer for women in sports.
Said Phua: "She was really such a class act. Many know her as a great athlete and sport administrator. But I think, more than anything else, she was so intelligent, so quick-witted.
"Her abundance of patience is amazing, how she suffered so many fools around her, I really salute her. She was ever so warm and gracious to everyone."
POWERS OF PERSUASION
Ex-national hockey player Lilian Chee, meanwhile, testified to Pennefather's powers of persuasion, recalling how she nudged her towards the path of officialdom after she retired.
The 44-year-old Chee, who served as a technical official in the women's hockey tournament at the 2016 Olympics, said: "When she first talked to me about it, I was quite nervous and very unsure; given Singapore is not a big hockey nation, breaking into the world circuit is not easy.
"But, because she used herself as a live example, she was the first Singaporean woman to officiate at the Olympics, and she was very encouraging, that is something that pushed me forward to do it.
"She gave me the belief that one day I would be able to achieve this Olympic dream."
Current SHF president Mathavan Devadas, 60, said his predecessor's legacy remains there for all to see in the form of Sengkang Hockey Stadium.
"I can describe her legacy in three words, Sengkang Hockey Stadium,"he said.
"The current home of hockey is one of the best hockey venues in the world. She was the one who moved very strongly to get that when we were hosting the Youth Olympic Games in 2010."
While Pennefather put Singapore hockey on the map when she became vice-president of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in 2004 and president of FIH's judicial commission in 2017, her sporting legacy transcends the sport.
Said SNOC president Tan Chuan-Jin: "Her contribution was not limited to Singapore. She was also invited and elected to positions at the Commonwealth Games Federation, Badminton World Federation, International Cricket Council, International Hockey Federation and World Athletics."
Beyond the sporting arena, Pennefather, who was a consultant at Withers KhattarWong, was also highly regarded in the legal profession. In her career spanning more than 30 years, she specialised in property law, sports law and international business transactions.
Said former Law Society of Singapore president Chandra Mohan: "When I was president of the Law Society, she was my vice-president. I worked very well with her... She was a good example of a good leader...
"I wanted her to be the Law Society president after me, but it was discovered that she had a hole in her heart (in 1996), so she didn't want to... She would have made a good president and only the second lady president at the time."
" She was a role model for all women, not just to break the glass ceiling but to believe in yourself."
- Ex-national hockey player Melanie Martens, on her late teammate Annabel Pennefather
Other tributes for Annabel Pennefather
"A well-respected role model, she guided our sports talents, imparting in them resilience, discipline and teamwork.
"She made sure they had the right environment to succeed. As a trailblazer for women in sports, she worked tirelessly to increase participation by women and girls."
- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
"I think one of the main things that I learnt from her is that athletes are the heart of an organisation. We're there to try and do whatever we can to help them.
"Especially for hockey, you are dealing with people who may not be from well-to-do families and may have their own problems at home. You have to make hockey the right environment for them to thrive."
- Former national swimmer and ex-Singapore Hockey Federation chief executive Mark Chay
"If there is a person that defines the word 'trailblazer', then Annabel fits that description... she won the respect of many on and off the field, and became a friend and mentor to many others.
" She has always supported SSA and has helped our swimmers with advice and guidance. She will be dearly missed."
- Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) president Lee Kok Choy
"The demise of Annabel is a huge loss... (She was) also standing for the position of FAS vice-president at our election in 2017. During the election, her professionalism stood out crystal clear...
"All of us will truly miss her professionalism, competency, capability, composure and administrative efficiency in sports." - Football Association of S'pore (FAS) president Lim Kia Tong
"Dear Annabel, you have been a great inspiration to me since we first met. You would always share words of encouragement and remind me of the need to give back to the fraternity because we need more women's voices in sport...
"You will be dearly missed."
- National shooter Jasmine Ser
"What I (remember) most fondly about her is how down to earth and warm she was. She always made sure to connect whenever we met and I was always met with a ready smile."
- Retired Paralympic swimmer Theresa Goh