When Roger Penny died suddenly on 13th January in his 68th year, Australian bridge lost one of its most accomplished and long-serving personalities. Roger was born and educated in Adelaide. A natural communicator, he trained as a school teacher [B.A., Dip.Ed., B.Ed.(Hons)] and, after graduation, taught at high schools in Mt Gambier and Darwin. In the middle 1960s, he joined the ABC where he spent much of his working life in production and on-air presentation.
A promotion took Roger and wife Jenny to Perth in 1965. Although both had some inklings of bridge previously, their very first game of duplicate, shortly after their arrival, took place in the old WABA premises in West Perth. Soon afterwards they became foundation members of the Canning Districts Bridge Club where Roger volunteered to be the Club’s first director. Thus began a life-long love affair with tournament directing. Roger was largely self-taught, learning the essentials from the classic directing texts of Farrington and Groner and seeking guidance from time to time from the late Mike Hopper. Recalling those early days, Bob Prince recounts Roger’s unique practice of informing members of their results from the previous week’s session – pegging all the travelling score sheets and the recapitulation sheet to a string hung along one side of the room.
By the time Roger moved from Perth to Hobart in 1979 he was such an accomplished director that he was immediately appointed Chief Director for the TBA. From there his directing career went from strength to strength. Among other achievements, he was Chief Congress Director at many Australian National Championships, a member of the directing team at the Summer Festival of Bridge in Canberra for two decades and Chief Tournament Director at Brisbane’s World Expo Congress in 1988. But his real pride and joy was the Gold Coast Congress. There he was Deputy Chief Director for many years until quite recently when ill health restricted his activities. It was entirely fitting that, just last year to mark the end of long service to the GCC, Roger and long-time convening team Tony and Clare Jackman were appointed to the Congress Roll of Honour.
Roger gave much credit for his directing ability to tutelage from Richard Grenside and Reg Busch. But there was more to it than that. Roger was a big man with a big man’s presence, he was well organised, had a comprehensive grasp of the Laws, and possessed the sort of people skills that defused difficult situations. Most importantly Roger just loved directing.
There was much more to Roger Penny’s bridge career than merely directing. He was Chairman of the TBA Tournament Committee for some 25 years, he served many terms as an ABF Councillor, he prepared an informative manual for tournament director training that became the basis for the TBA’s director accreditation scheme, and in 1994 he became foundation President of the Australian Bridge Directors’ Association. It was during his presidency that a bridge directors’ bulletin produced in Queensland, a brainchild of Reg Busch’s, was adopted as the ABDA Bulletin. Roger himself described this publication as “the shining jewel in the Association’s structure”. He was not the only person to think so. Today the ABDA Bulletin, with its extensive list of international subscribers, is accepted as the world’s leading periodical for tournament directors. In 2003, in recognition of his tireless and substantial contributions to the association, Roger was inducted to ABDA Life Membership.
Besides all this Roger was an innovator. He was the moving force in establishing both of the national events played in Tasmania. The successful inception of the Australian Swiss Pairs Championship in 1993 and the Tassie National Seniors Swiss Pairs in 2005 owes much to his foresight and his confidence in the enthusiastic support that Tasmanian bridge players would give to national tournaments.
Roger and Jenny had three daughters, Sue, Kate and Jo, of whom they were immensely proud. Time took its toll of their marriage, and they separated, while both continuing to work for Tasmanian bridge – Jenny as a teacher and Roger as an administrator and director. Lately, Roger found great happiness with Jane Stapleton his partner in business and life. They all have our sympathy.
Roger Penny was one of those rare individuals who give more than they get. The Australian and particularly the Tasmanian bridge communities were the beneficiaries. Roger was an epicure, a lover of fine wine and a good companion but, above all, he was a great friend. We shall miss him.
John Brockwell and Tony Jackman