Farewell to an Administrator

I was saddened to hear of the recent death of Richard Haddrell, one of England’s most prominent chess administrators.

I never met Richard: indeed my only contact with him was through his role as Grading Administrator for the ECF. When I had tournament results for grading I had to email them to Richard. If I made a mistake I’d be sure to receive a rather abrupt and sarcastic reply, like a schoolmaster telling off a naughty schoolboy.

And a schoolmaster was what he was before his retirement. Richard was certainly no rookie as a player, having won the championship of his club, Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, on several occasions. It was as an administrator, though, that he’ll be remembered. He received a President’s Award for Services to Chess in 1994, at which point he had been actively involved in chess administration for 25 years or more. That work would continue for the rest of his life.

Richard’s forte was accuracy and attention to detail, which is why he was in demand when rules needed to be written or meetings needed to be minuted. He held many roles of this nature over the years. As a schoolmaster he was naturally very much involved with junior chess, and, apart from organising many teams in competitions in Kent, was also the Chief Conductor of the National Schools Chess Championship from 2001 to 2015.

For many chess players in the South of England he will be best remembered as the SCCU (Southern Counties Chess Union) bulletin editor from 1978 until its demise in 2011, and its webmaster from its instigation in 1998 until his death. The SCCU website was, and still is, something extraordinary, and a fitting tribute to Richard’s memory. It’s totally unlike any other website I’ve seen. No graphics, no gimmicks, just an index of anything you might need on the front page. Perfect: very easy to find whatever you’re looking for. His waspish sense of humour was also present throughout the site. Most of us would have turned to the “What’s New” page for the latest results of county matches, but we’d also read, with many chuckles along the way, his informative reports of SCCU and ECF meetings. After that, we’d turned to the wonderful “Ragbag” page: a cornucopia of absurdities from the world of SCCU chess, many of which came from rookies (or castlies) in low level kiddie events. A few examples:

“Do the clocks go clockwise?”
An 8 year old in a recent junior congress

From a recent Megafinal:
Junior: “I lost in three moves by Scholar’s Mate.”
Controller: “Scholar’s Mate is four moves.”
Junior: “Oh. It was three moves. Does that mean I won?”

From an EPSCA event:
“He beat me with an undiscovered check.”

From an U9 event 26.2.11:
Junior (who has bare king): “Tell him it’s a draw. He’s only got a king and queen left.”
Adult: “Well, no, that isn’t a forced draw.”
Junior’s opponent: “Yes, it is.” (Accepts draw)

It’s also worth a look at the Archives, which will inform you that, apart from being Bulletin Editor and Webmaster, Richard was SCCU secretary, and also Minute Secretary, from 1997 to his retirement on health grounds in 2015, and also Minute Secretary from 1979 to 1982. All this was on top of his work more locally in Kent, and in Tunbridge Wells Chess Club.

I’ve always believed that organisers and administrators are just as important as players. Many of us get involved in a small way, perhaps captaining a team in the local league, but there have always been a small number of people who who seem to spend much of their lives involved with chess administration at all levels. Most of them are, like Richard, highly competent, dedicated and reliable individuals, and it is they who are the backbone of chess in this country. If any vacancy arises for any job they will be the first to volunteer, with no expectation of either reward or fame. If you want something done, ask a busy person. Sadly, there are not many of them left now. It’s very easy to sneer, as many of us used to do when we were younger: perhaps they’re not the strongest players in the world, perhaps they just enjoy attending committee meetings and hearing the sound of their own voice, but without them the rest of us wouldn’t be able to play competitive chess.

I have the 1995 BCF Yearbook in front of me, which reports on Richard’s BCF President’s Award. “One thing which sets Richard apart from the rest of us is his penchant for getting this right.” From the context, this is clearly a typo for “getting things right”: I’m sure he appreciated the irony. That was Richard, a loyal and dedicated servant to the game of chess who prided himself on conscientiousness, efficiency and attention to detail, and would come down on those who didn’t meet his high standards with mordant humour.

Many of his colleagues who knew him personally have posted heartfelt tributes on the English Chess Forum:

“Richard was a great administrator who facilitated so much chess playing, particularly in the SCCU, schools and as an efficient grading administrator.” (Neill Cooper)

“English chess is much the poorer with his passing.” (John Swain)

“A very genuine and hard working man with no agenda other than to do what he could for other chess players.” (Michael Flatt)

Finally, from SCCU President Julie Denning:
“… a gentle soul, absolutely dedicated to the interests of chess. Richard, rest in peace. We will be missing you for many years to come.”

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.