The whole table tennis world will mourn the passing of a great player and a great lady. Diane Scholer (nee Rowe) passed away in Dusseldorf, Germany yesterday, aged 90. She was a true legend of the game and it all started way back in 1947.
Di celebrated her 90th birthday in April this year, 2023, and to recognise the occasion a brief history of her table tennis life was written and is repeated below.
However, as important as table tennis was to Di, so too was her family and to them we send our most sincere condolences, husband Ebby, daughter Cindy and son Christian and her grandchildren – Jenny, Jarne, Nele and Nicole. To all Di’s table tennis friends around the world who will be saddened at her passing, we share your sorrow.
Friendship and mutual respect are the keystones to the ethos of the Swaythling Club International, which was so important to Di and these two principles were ones which she held close to her and the strong and lifelong friendships that Di had with so many people around the world are a testament to those beliefs.
Diane’s funeral will take place in Germany on Tuesday July 4th.
Where did it all start? It was Christmas morning 1947 when two excited 14-year-old twins woke up hoping they were going to get bikes as their present so they were a little disappointed when they received table tennis bats. The disappointment didn’t last long as the two teenagers, right-handed Rosalind ‘Ros’ and left-handed Diane ‘Di’, were soon hitting a ball backwards and forwards across the dining room table.
It would have seemed inconceivable on that Christmas morning that less than three years later they would be world champions for the first time and on 14th April 1954, on their 21st birthday, a second world title was added.
However, back to 1947 where the dining room table and other furniture looked in jeopardy from the two girls and so it wasn’t long before Dad bought a table tennis table and set it up in a spare room. Ros and Di practised and practised for hours, they soon joined a local club where they began to beat not only other girls but the boys as well.
The famous West Ealing Club beckoned where top international player and coach, Ken Craigie, took them under his wing and trophies soon started appearing on the mantlepiece. Ros was the first when she beat Di in the West Middlesex Junior Championships in 1949 but they were both taking the tournament circuit by storm winning senior as well as junior titles in singles and doubles.
Ros was the first to be capped for England when she was selected to play in Czechoslovakia in November 1949 at the tender age of 16. Not to be outdone, Di soon followed and also had a major success when she won the Daily Mirror tournament in April 1950 in both the Girls’ and Women’s Singles events. The finals were played at the Royal Albert Hall in front of 4,500 spectators including Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and television cameras. As a result of the wins, Di was entitled to free coaching and so Victor Barna became her coach, she of course, took Ros along as well.
The improvement in their game was significant, bearing in mind they were already very good players, they moved up a level. Before they were 18 the pair had toured Belgium, Holland and France and were chosen to represent England at the World Championships in Vienna in 1950.
It was a magical Championships for England as first Johnny Leach won the Men’s Singles beating Ivan Andreadis of Czechoslovakia in the final. Then it was Di and Ros’s turn. In their first World Championships they had reached the final of the Women’s Doubles and were facing two of the best players in the world, Romanians Angelica Rozeanu and Sari Szasz. What a match it was – Di and Ros won the first game 22-20 but lost the second 20-22, the third went their way 21-19 but the fourth saw the score levelled 24-22. All to play for in the fifth game which turned out to be the easiest of all as they won 21-13. Incredible scenes followed.
The Rowe twins were feted not only in England but around the world, they were true super stars of the 1950s and invitations came pouring in. A very official one invited them to play an exhibition match before the Swedish Royal Family in 1951. Prince Gustav, now the King of Sweden, who was then four years old went scrambling around the sumptuous room retrieving balls wherever they ended up.
Another remarkable tour was three months spent in New Zealand and Australia in 1953. The twins left England on 7th May and arrived back on home soil on 7th September, not only three months in the two countries but two long sea voyages as well. It was the sea journey home that changed both Ros and Di’s lives as Ros met her future husband en route, she married in 1955 and retired from play shortly after.
Di and Ros’ second world title came in 1954 at the Empire Pool and Sports Arena, Wembley and it was an all England final with Kathy Best and Ann Haydon the opponents. The score -19, 10, 19, 20. Di and Ros held aloft the W J Pope Trophy for the second time, presented by the Dowager, Lady Swaythling.
Di made more than 400 appearances for England, won two gold world championships medals, eight silver and ten bronze. She was a member of the England team which won the first European Championships Women’s Team title and went on to win again in 1964/65, she also won the Women’s Doubles twice with Mary Shannon/Wright with who she formed a world class partnership. She added five silver and five bronze medals to her collection.
Di also won 19 English Open titles as well as innumerable foreign Opens. In the first English Closed (now named the National Championships) she won the treble, Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles with Jill Rook/Mills and Mixed Doubles with Johnny Leach. She won 13 titles altogether before playing in and for Federal Germany following her marriage to Eberhard ‘Ebby’ Scholer, the top world class German international. They married in 1966 and she moved to Dusseldorf where she lived until her death.
When Di stopped playing competitively, she turned to coaching before following in the footsteps of her former coach and mentor, Victor Barna, as President of the Swaythling Club International (SCI). She held that position for many years before being elected as Honorary President.
Di has received many honours and accolades over the years: the ITTF Merit Award in 1993, the ETTA’s Victor Barna Award with Ros in 1954 and again in 1955, Player Achievement Award in 1983, Vice-President in 2021 and inducted into Table Tennis England Centenary Hall of Fame in 2022. The ETTU honoured Di when she was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2016, she was also made a Vice-President of the International Club of England in 1964 and the Veterans English Table Tennis Society in 1987. Sadly, her twin sister Ros passed away in 2015..
It is over 75 years since Di first held a bat in her hand and since that time, she has been a player, a captain, a coach, a World, European and National champion and a superb role model. Di had a wonderful life and one we give thanks for.
Many tributes have already been paid.
Table Tennis England President, Jill Parker MBE: “Di was a wonderful ambassador for the sport, who will be sorely missed by all her table tennis friends and fans from around the world.
“Di performed with distinction for the two countries she represented, England and Germany. Her performances in women’s doubles with her twin sister Ros were legendary. She was an inspiration to many players around Europe, including myself.
“Condolences to Ebby and the family at this sad time.”
Honorary Life Member and Honorary Past President, Doreen Stannard, who used to play with Di at Ultra TTC in the North Acton League many, many years ago, says a simple but heartfelt: “Goodbye to a lifelong friend”.
Table Tennis England Chairperson, Sandra Deaton: “When I came into the sport over half a century ago I was introduced to the incredible global performances and achievements of the Rowe twins. I remember clearly being in awe of such iconic women.
“As time moved on and travelling the world, I had the privilege not only to meet Diane but to spend some quality time with her. She was an unassuming lady with immense humility. Her understanding of the sport throughout the decades knew no bounds and she was always willing to help and support the progress of the game.
English table tennis has evolved as a result of the history Diane gave us. Her induction into the Centenary Hall of Fame will provide a platform to make sure our heritage is never forgotten.
“Thank you to Ebby and her family for allowing us all to share in Diane’s life. Global table tennis will always be indebted to her for her unfailing dedication. She will be sorely missed but never ever forgotten and I hope that the family gets comfort knowing that as the sport of table tennis continues so does the legacy of the incredible Diane.”
England International and Table Tennis England Vice-President, Mary Wright, who won innumerable medals with Di at World, European and National Championships, as well as many Open Tournaments at home and abroad: “My early memories of Di were when we were first paired together in 1962 not long after I had made my debut appearance for England at the Quadrangular Matches in Scotland.
“The selectors decided that we would make a good Ladies’ Doubles pairing in the forthcoming European Championships in Berlin. I was just 18 and in awe of Di’s standing in the table tennis world having been world champion in the doubles with her twin sister Ros twice before.
“For me it was my first experience of a major championship and together, mainly due to Di’s experience and encouragement we not only finished runners-up to West Germany in the team event but won the Ladies’ Doubles title beating the German favourites Simon and Haarst in the final.
“These was heady times for me and Di and I became firm friends and partners for the rest of Di’s England career before she married Ebby Scholer and moved to Germany.
“The season after Berlin we together reached the final of the Ladies’ Doubles at the World Championships in Prague, losing 3-1 to the Japanese top seeds.
“We continued to have great success both in team events and doubles for many years, one of the highlights being successful in Malmo at the European Championships both in the team event and once again in the doubles.
“As a person, Di was my mentor. She was 100% loyal to both her county, Middlesex, and to England, and represented both with pride and honour. Always immaculately dressed and scrupulously fair and a fighter until the last point was won or lost. She also had a great sense of humour and a world champion at drinking PG Tips tea whenever she could.
“I feel very proud to have been her partner and friend for many years.”