Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - August 2018

Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

Leslie Vincent Whittle 1939-2018

By kind permission of the Whittle family, here are some excerpts from the eulogy written by Les’s brother, Brian:

Les was born on 7th February, 1939 at 6 Noble Terrace, Middle Greens, Morpeth. The family moved to Howard Terrace on 1st November 1940 and Les lived there for the rest of his life.

Les went blind when he was 7 or 8 years old. He attended Benwell School for the Blind in Newcastle as a boarder then went to the college for the blind at Rowton Castle in Shrewsbury for his secondary education. In those days blind people were offered the choice of being a piano tuner or shorthand typist. Les chose to train as a shorthand typist and by the age of 19 left school with good speeds in shorthand and typing.

In those days there was no legislation compelling employers to employ disabled people and Les struggled to find a permanent job. Eventually he was offered a job in the office at the Newcastle workshops for the blind and remained there until he retired at the age of 62. In 1995 Les was awarded the M.B.E. for “Services to the Furniture Industry”. In reality I think that someone wished to acknowledge that, as a totally blind man, Les had held down a proper job all his adult life.

Outside of work Les had many interests. At Rowton Castle he learned to play the piano and played for the rest of his life. He would never play in front of anyone outside the family until he joined the Braille Chess Association when he used to play in the evenings.

Les also took up bird song recording where, I believe, he was the only blind person in the group. He used to travel all over, College Valley in North Northumberland; the Solway Firth, the island of Isla in the western isles and he twice went to Hungary, the last time only two years ago.

When my father died Les and my sister, Moira, took over his allotment and tended it for many years. When he finally gave it up it had been in the family for 60 or 70 years.

Les was a keen Newcastle United supporter attending many matches in his younger days but latterly listening to the matches on local radio.

Les’s all-consuming interest was chess. My parents bought him his first chess set in 1952. He taught himself to play in 1957 and never looked back. He was a member of Morpeth chess club for 59 years, at various times being secretary, captain and finally President. He played for Northumberland for many years, captained them from 1984 to 1991. Les was a former President of the Northumberland Chess Association and subsequently an Honorary Life Vice President. He also played correspondence chess for his county.

So we have man who worked hard all his life and had many and varied interests; but what of Les the man?

Les had a great rapport with children. When my children were small Les used to keep them enthralled for hours telling them stories that he spontaneously made up. A much loved and appreciated talent.

Les was never bitter about being totally blind. I can never remember a single moment when he complained or expressed bitterness about his loss of sight. He never had a bad word to say about anyone. He treated others as he wished to be treated.

The last two years Les suffered badly. Secondary cancer took hold and the NHS did him no favours. He soldiered on despite terrible pain and, as in the rest of his life, accepted this as his lot and just made the best of it. Having been given only months to live nine months ago, he finally slipped away in his sleep on the 9th of June.

Les was a thoroughly decent man and I was proud to call him brother.

By kind permission of the family, here are some excerpts from a eulogy written by friend, Christine Cox:

Les frequently reminded me of the first contact he made with me in 1986 when I was gathering support for a musical weekend. I struck up a friendship with Les and his sister Moira with our mutual interest in all things musical. They attended theatre-goers lunches, birthday parties, music weekends and holidays to spend time listening to the Spa Orchestra with me and other friends.

However, without the wonderful support of sister much of this would not have been possible. Moira was the one who took care of Les since the loss of their parents, drove the motor car, prepared meals and ran the home. Moira was the rock on which Les built his trust and on Les’s behalf I thank you, Moira, for all that you did for him.

Les and the BCA – excerpts from the obituary on our website, written by Voldi Gailans:

For many years, fixed holidays from work prevented Les from attending over the board events, but he was very active in postal chess for decades. He was a Group Leader in the Correspondence Championship until earlier this year. He also played regularly for the BCA team in the British Correspondence Chess League.

Les played for us in an Anglo-Dutch match in 1983. After retiring, Les was free to go to more over the board events. He was a regular competitor at our week long and weekend tournaments. He was also a regular coach at the Windermere chess theme breaks. Back home in Morpeth, Les organised many charity events at his local club to raise funds for the BCA.

Internationally, Les travelled to many Irish Open tournaments and played for the UK in Six Nations events in Germany 2003, Netherlands 2005, Germany 2007 and France 2015. He also represented the UK in a range of IBCA events: the 12th Olympiad in Spain 2004, the 5th World Cup in Greece 2005, the 4th European Individual Championship in Durham 2007 and the Inaugural European Team Championship in Poland 2016. One of his finest achievements in the BCA was when he scored six points from eight games at the Tarragona Olympiad in 2004 and won the Board 4 Silver Medal for the UK!

Les was jovial, friendly and witty and always had time to chat and swap stories. He will be greatly missed by all his friends in the BCA and by those in the wider community. BCA members Christine Andrews, Hazel and Steve Burnell and Gerry Walsh were at the funeral, which was very well attended. Local chess players were also there.

Editor’s note:

Moira would like to express sincere gratitude to everyone who has sent cards or other messages of condolence. Every single one is appreciated. Thanks also to all who have made donations to Prostate Cancer UK in memory of Les. Donations are still coming in and Moira will let us know the total raised in due course.

In return, I’m sure we would all like to thank Moira for the wonderful support she gave to Les, which enabled him to be so active in Braille chess circles. Although desperately ill, Les resolved to attend the 25th Chess Theme Break in Windermere earlier this year. His determination and a very great deal of help from Moira got him there. The tremendous effort put into making that trip to be with his Braille chess friends was a clear indication of how much it meant to them both. Equally, the respect, concern and affectionate friendship shown to them more than ever at that event was a clear indication of how moved people were to see Les there one last time. RIP Les.

Moira has said that she will continue to attend BCA events and we’ll certainly hold her to that!