Pat Marsh’s long career at the apex of ice hockey, nationally and internationally, spanned five decades from the 1950s to the 1990s.
Throughout it all, she maintained the same unflappable composure. Any problem was dealt with calmly and efficiently, with only the vaguest hint of exasperation – when those with less strength of character would have been having a heart attack or a breakdown.
Pat became involved in ice hockey as a teenager when her future husband Geoff, a netminder for Streatham Royals, took her to see her first game at the south London rink in 1950.
Three years later she successfully applied for the post of secretary to John (Bunny) Ahearne, the president of the British Ice Hockey Association (BIHA), who also ran a travel agency in London’s Mayfair.
In those days, part of her salary included 13 shillings and sixpence – over £10 today – for cleaning the office, which she shared with referee Ernie Leacock, the BIHA’s assistant secretary. He helped her find her feet with both the paperwork and the hard-working Mr Ahearne.
When Ahearne became president of the world governing body, the IIHF, in 1957, her workload grew substantially. She was so highly valued that when she left in 1959 to have her daughter Alison (there was no maternity leave in those days), she was recalled when her replacement failed to meet her and Bunny’s high standards.
With Ahearne increasingly involved with IIHF business, in 1972 she stepped up to become the BIHA’s secretary and was no longer restricted to an office desk. She represented Britain at their Congresses in Prague (1972) and Colorado Springs (1986), experiences she described as educational but daunting.
She also enjoyed trips abroad with Great Britain’s junior teams. Her favourite tournament was the under-18 World Championships (Pool C) in 1986 when GB won the gold medal in Barcelona.
The most exciting and busiest period of her career, she recalled, was the 1980s when the sport was boosted with sponsorships from household name companies, and a host of new rinks sprang up. Her new boss Frederick Meredith readily acknowledged that “without Pat, it would not have been possible for the sport to grow as it did in the 1980s”.
When in 1987 Mrs Marsh asked to be relieved of her office job, the BIHA refused to let her go, instead appointing her a personal member (director) of their ruling Council, the first woman to be granted a place in the inner sanctum.
While this left her free of the day-to-day grind, she was kept busy with various tasks, including twice serving as the organisation’s delegate to the Women’s European Championships, and overseeing the sport’s doping control programme.
Even after she finally retired in 1999, shortly before the governing body’s demise, she willingly provided the new, independent Superleague with advice and guidance.
Throughout her years in the sport, she earned the admiration of players, officials, fellow administrators and the media alike for her calm efficiency, ready accessibility and willingness to tackle any problem. All of them considered her as ‘the First Lady of British ice hockey’.
In 1987 the BIHA awarded her the Ahearne Medal for her services to the British game, and in 2002 the IIHF presented her with the Paul Loicq Award for her services to the world body, the first Briton to receive this prestigious honour. In 1988 she was the first woman to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Patricia Marian Marsh (née Griffiths) was born on 12 February 1934 in Brixton, south London and died on 20 April 2017 in Croydon, Surrey. Her husband Geoff died in 2003.