Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - August 2021

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.

RIP Antoine Reeves

Julie Leonard writes:

Antoine was born in Blackpool on the 20th of February 1955. In 1967 he went to Henshaws school for the blind in Manchester, before moving in 1975 to the RNC in Hereford, where he studied music and piano tuning. Later on, he returned to education and graduated in Performing Arts from Scarborough University in 2002.

Antoine’s first contact with the BCA was at a Chess Theme Break organised by Peter and Celia Gibbs at the Windermere Manor Hotel in 2013. He tried to learn chess but alas, it wasn’t for him. He’d enjoyed the rest of the week though and met many new friends so was keen to attend in 2014. The story goes that he struck a good-natured deal with the organisers. Antoine could go without playing chess provided he would once again perform “Mother”, a beautiful song that he’d written himself. (Google “Antoine Reeves Mother” to find it on YouTube.)

Since then, Antoine never missed a Chess Theme Break. Each year, he gladly fulfilled the terms of his agreement by playing “Mother” on the piano and singing to a delighted audience. He contributed hugely to the soirées, playing other instruments such as guitar and flute. His collaborations with fellow talented musicians such as Abi, Thuy, Tanvi and Gary never failed to be a hit. He also truly appreciated other skilled performers such as those hired by the hotel and our own late Michael Meaney from Ireland. Everyone received enthusiastic praise from Toiney. He enjoyed the trips, took part in the bingo and quizzes and became a much-loved member of the group.

Antoine also attended BCA Chairman’s Cups in Bournemouth and Championships in Harrogate and Torquay. He came to his first weekend tournament in Solihull in the autumn of 2019. I was unsure of how he’d get on because our weekend events are a lot more “chessy” than the longer tournaments. He loved it though and had already booked for the AGM weekend in Derby 2020, when it was cancelled due to covid.

In Torquay, Antoine had to visit a GP’s surgery so I gave him a lift. At his appointment time a careworn and tired looking healthcare professional opened her door to him. When she reappeared to bring Toiney back to me she was beaming from ear to ear. I wondered who had mended whom during that consultation. Helping people feel better was another of Antoine’s great gifts that he shared liberally with anyone he met. That same week, Antoine played the hilariously incompetent “Inspector Antoirot” in our murder mystery evening. He wasn’t a bit concerned about having lost his script. He always trusted that everything would turn out well and it did!

For Antoine, everyday activities became something magical. He called his shower “The Tardis” and as he stepped inside, he imagined he was entering Dr Who’s time travelling spaceship for a trip to a distant galaxy! He never had a simple cup of tea – it was always an Ocean of tea! His local café kept an enormous mug just for him. He was a seize the moment and have fun sort of a guy! A brilliantly funny mimic, he tackled voices as diverse as John Lennon and Kate Bush with ease. He adored music of all types but his greatest love was for the Beatles about whom he had an encyclopaedic knowledge! He read a lot and had an endearing childlike fascination with Harry Potter. At BCA events he often wore his Hogwarts slippers! He was adventurous and relished his trips to his sister Annette and family in Brazil. As a gifted medium, he had helped many bereaved families find solace.

Antoine himself passed away unexpectedly on the 8th of April, having been admitted to hospital just a couple days earlier. Family and friends were stunned. One month later Annette, to whom I am indebted for information about Antoine’s life for this piece, organised an online celebration for him. More than 70 people from Brazil, Europe, Australia and New Zealand joined in, including at least fifteen BCA members. People shared favourite memories of Antoine. Gary even played a song that he’d written for him. Antoine’s funeral was on the 9th of July in his Spiritualist Church in Huddersfield. Miraculously, Annette and her daughter Sasha managed to get across the Atlantic for it. Gary and Tanvi also attended in person and many more of us followed the service online.

The world is a poorer place without Antoine, but even as I write that I know he’d gently tell me off and say “But I’m still here with you all, just in a different way!” Whether or not we share his faith in spiritualism, knowing that Antoine believed his spirit would go on will surely comfort all those who miss him.

Rest in peace, Antoine. Sincere sympathy to the family. The last words are from Antoine’s brother-in-law in Brazil, Marcos DeCastro, who composed a tribute to him. For all who knew Antoine, it perfectly encapsulates his very essence and those who attended the online celebration were profoundly moved by it. Here is an excerpt:

“There is no need for sad, bitter farewells as he said he is happy, free of any physical pain and in the here and now drinking a most amazing Cup of Tea with his Mom Yvonne, even though he confesses, he misses a brilliant Chicken Curry or a good old Kebab. He said we would not be able to get rid of him that easily as he is now alive and present in every single moment of our lives and even in the instruction voice of Waze and we can hear him saying ‘in two hundred meters Turn Left’, ‘in eight hundred meters Turn Right’ and Wow, Great, You have NOW reached your destination! Well done!”