Tribute to former ITCA Secretary, Helen Evans

At the end of August we learned with great sadness of the death of Helen Evans, former ITCA (GBR) Secretary and ITCA International Secretary.

For many in the Topper world Helen was not only a wife, mother, grandmother but binding us all together was a real friend. It is always so sad when someone you hold dear passes away and yet it is at the same time an opportunity to give thanks – thanks for a rich life of fulfilment where Helen was at the heart of the Topper Class.

This has been echoed many times in the tributes that the family has received all capturing the same spirit with phrases like, “a lovely person”, “truly professional in all she did”, “kindness itself ”, “a great ambassador for the class”, and “a lady like a fond auntie to countless young sailors” occurring time and again.

Helen was the Topper Class secretary for 23 years and even when she retired from that position, she still maintained her links by continuing as International Secretary where she had built up over the years close links, particularly with the German Topper sailors.

Helen had been a school secretary but a chance advert in Yachts and Yachting in 1982 caught her eye and tempted her to make a career change. After some hesitation and self-doubt, she accepted the post which turned out to be more a way of life than a job. Fortunately the Evans family were already used to sailing but becoming the Class Secretary proved to be a sharp learning curve with all the many aspects of dealing with boat insurance, committee meetings, manning the Dinghy Show stand, enquiries at all times of the day and night, publicity, the editing of Topper Times and banking all falling under her remit. At the end of her first Nationals in 1983 she was so tired one night that she plunged into the bath without realising she was still wearing some clothes!

I recall fondly the first Topper open meeting that Stephen (my son) and I attended in October 1988 at Rudyard Lake – Helen’s own club. Two aspects stand out in my memory, firstly Helen went round the dinghy park and personally introduced herself and welcomed all newcomers and secondly she had called on her contacts within the big names of Topper sailing at the time such as John Caig, Dave Parkinson, Graham Wright, Janet Thompson and probably others to ensure its success. What a big impression that made on a 12 year old boy to feel embraced in such a way.

Helen’s skill and efficiency became taken for granted – even the transition to the digital world was taken in her stride, ably assisted by Alan her husband. She was always there for everyone and was so well loved and respected by all age groups that she attended several Topper sailors’ weddings and sadly, funerals. We can all recall moments of great banter among some of the older sailors and supporting parents – reminiscences with the likes of Clive Beale, Barry White, John Swannie, Hilary Talbot, Graham Wright, Margaret Delaney and Derek Burchell. These were some of the people, who along with Helen’s stewardship, helped to establish Toppers as the “Friendly Class” –  a phrase still used today with great pride. I would venture to suggest that these were golden years, true in spirit to the principle of Ian Proctor when he conceived of a boat that embraces all ages and which allowed both sexes equal opportunities to do well. The mix of all ages developed a mutual respect, set standards of sailing to aspire to and taught and policed a respect for the rules. And Helen in her encouragement of this open age involvement, was at the heart of this friendly rivalry.

Helen was keen too that at the Nationals and Worlds there was a strong social element, whether it was a ceilidh or a games night, entertainment from different national groups or just a well-run barbecue. All ages letting their hair down in this way all added to the cohesion of the class and encouraged otherwise shy youngsters to join in.

Of course over the years there were moments of real challenge when the class was rescued by the skilful intervention of Chris Robinson, but on the domestic front Helen remained steadfast as the storm passed. For Helen there were other times of personal sadness which she faced with immense fortitude and a ready smile for all who sought her advice. She was quite simply a lovely lady who is sorely missed.

Roger Cleland,

former Chairman ITCA