Pete Oliver – a Tribute

Pete Oliver (11)

Below is a lovely tribute to Pete Oliver written over the weekend by some of his closest friends.  Details of Pete’s funeral arrangements are at the end of tribute.

It is with great sadness that we have to inform you that Pete Oliver passed away on Wednesday 16th September after a brief but devastating illness, aged 57. Pete lived all of his life in Muswell Hill, and was a loving and caring person dedicated to his north London community. He was a long-standing member of the club having joined it sometime in the late-1980s, and in those early years played initially in the then newly created men’s 5th team, before moving up to the 4th team and helping the latter rise through several divisions of the Middlesex League over a number of seasons. Pete was always a committed and reliable member of his team, and would go out of his way to make himself available. On one occasion, with a player stranded in traffic somewhere outside London, and a match soon due to start, substitute Pete got the call and without hesitation came to the rescue, travelling all the way up to Hadley Wood from his home in Muswell Hill by means of two (or possibly even three) bus journeys!

Pete will be remembered for being a genuinely lovely guy who never had a bad word to say about anyone; always smiling and just great fun to chat to on the bench or to play a match with. On court, he was indefatigable, and just seemed to keep on going through thick and thin. Known to some as “Pistol” Pete (ironically given legendary Pete Sampras’ epithet due to his slow-balling tactics!), he would just keep getting the ball back – chipping away and floating it to land just inside (or on) the baseline time after time – and liked nothing better than the battle of a closely contested (and long) final set, from which, through his dogged efforts, he would often emerge victorious. He was a keen participant in the singles ladder, and the first Highgate member ever to have played and won a ladder match overseas! It was whilst on holiday about 20 years ago in Le Touquet, France, with a group of friends from the club, that Pete made Highgate history playing a match on a specially designed, hotel roof tennis court. Commencing at 8am on the final day of the holiday, and with Pete short of sleep after partying the night before, it wasn’t long before he found himself 0-6 down. Pete, with his steely determination to succeed, was then able to find the necessary energy to turn this match around and win the next nine games. 9-6 to Pete, the final score. No fair-weather player, Pete would sometimes be seen playing in the rain at Highgate with an extra pair of socks worn over his shoes for improved grip when the courts got slippery, and he would strain every sinew in his body to win a match – it meant so much to him – but was always very gracious in defeat and a fair player to boot. Playing doubles with him was always a treat, because he was so generous; not a shred of criticism for missing a shot, but the opposite, encouragement.  He is also said to have been a pleasure to coach because he was so easy-going and willing to change.

In the late 1990s and throughout the following decade and beyond, Pete was very much involved in playing in ratings tournaments at clubs all over London, including one at the historic The Queen’s Club. After playing a match there on a Saturday afternoon one July, Pete dashed back from west London (still dressed in his whites) to make it in time for a match at Highgate in our own club tournament, with another one to play at Barnet LTC the following week. Such was Pete’s enthusiasm for singles competition during that time. With his three-hour matches, he was every tournament organiser’s nightmare, ruining their schedules and ensuring that their day would be a long one whenever he was playing. These days the long final set is a thing of the past at local tournaments, having now been replaced by the tie-break set or, in some cases, the match tie-break. No doubt Pete played a part in bringing about this change. Over the years, he picked up some silverware from the many tournaments he played, winning the Men’s 35 & Over (Division 10-7.2) competition at Georgians LTC in 2011, when he was 53, and he was also the Men’s Singles champion of our own annual handicap tournament at Brookside in 2004.

Off court, Pete was no different. Working tirelessly as a gardener at Highgate and at other clubs on Shepherds Cot, he helped maintain our little oasis in north London, and would keep toiling away with the same positive outlook, always be friendly to everyone he met and willing to assist. Shortly after the club’s merger with Brookside LTC, Pete was alerted to the fact that the garden gnomes at Brookside had gone missing, and he said just to leave it with him and he’d sort things out. True enough, the following day, Pete had found replacement gnomes and positioned them in exactly the same spot where the disappeared had been.

To many at the club, Pete was more than just someone with whom they played tennis. So many members (past and present) have had their own green spaces and gardens nurtured by him; some living close-by, others as far away as St Katharine docks. To others, he was a great neighbour, always keen to pop in for a chat or to look after their flat while they were away.

In recent years, due to his increasing workload and in order to spend more time caring for his elderly mother, Pete found less time to play tennis and was more likely to be seen at the club dressed in his big yellow overalls and goggles by day, or in his flamboyant velvet jackets and rock-star shirts by night at the club’s parties, rather than in his tennis clothes. Although still managing to find time to play the occasional game of social tennis, Pete now seemed to have his appetite for competition sated by pub quizzes, both at his local, The Famous Royal Oak in Muswell Hill, and also at other pubs in the area. More often than not he was on the winning team of our own regular quiz nights at Highgate.

Pete was generous, approachable and kind; a gentle giant of a man. He touched the lives of everyone fortunate enough to have met him and was an integral part of our tennis family at Highgate. His presence will be sorely missed by us all.

R.I.P. Pistol Pete. A one-off and one of the best!

Highgate Friends of Peter Oliver

Pete’s Funeral will take place at 3pm on Friday 2nd October at Marylebone Crematorium, East End Road, East Finchley, and afterwards we will celebrate his life at the Famous Royal Oak, St James’s Lane, Muswell Hill. Everyone is welcome, but if attending, it is suggested that you not wear the traditional black, but the most garish attire you possess instead. It’s what Pete would have wanted!

Pete was looked after by the Whittington Hospital ITU team and a collection in memory of Pete is being made. You can send a donation (please reference payments ITU PO) to:

The Whittington Hospital NHS Trust Charitable Funds,

Account No: 04039403

Sort Code: 30-00-02

Cheques (with ref on the back ITU PO) should be made payable to :

The Whittington Hospital NHS Trust Charitable Funds and sent to:

Leverton & Sons Muswell Hill

1 Denmark Terrace

Fortis Green

N2 9HG

A moderate amount of flowers may also be sent on the day to Leverton Funeral Directors at Fortis Green, 1 Denmark Terrace, London N2 9HG  (T): 020 7387 6075