Photo: Sarah-Jade Champagne
Tennis Canada is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of long-time donor Betty Birmingham and extends its condolences to her children, Jennifer and Jeff, and her four grandchildren, Benjamin, Jason, Jacob, and Jonathan.
“It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to one of the most loved friends of tennis in Canada,” said Michael Downey, President and Chief Executive Officer, Tennis Canada. “Betty was a beloved member of the Canadian wheelchair tennis community and brought passion and dedication to each and every event she supported. She was not just a donor, but an engaging member of the Canadian tennis family.”
Betty’s enthusiasm for wheelchair tennis was infectious, and as much as she grew fond of the established players who became regulars on the Canadian wheelchair tennis scene, she always made it a priority to welcome the rookies who were just getting into the sport.
“When I think of Betty, I think of family,” said Kai Schrameyer, National Coach of Wheelchair Tennis, High Performance Program at Tennis Canada. “Betty didn’t just drop off the sponsorship cheque. She was involved, and always present at the events the Birmingham family supported. From the early 8 a.m. first-round matches until the end of the day when the Gatorade coolers were emptied, and wheelchairs got stored away. Betty knew the players. She knew their stories and their pathway into the sport.”
“It is heartbreaking to think that Betty will no longer be courtside at the Birmingham Nationals,” expressed Sarah Hunter, former world No. 2 in the quad category and Canadian Paralympian. “Canadian wheelchair tennis players lost their biggest supporter, leaving a hole that can’t be filled. Betty, we thank you for your support and friendship over the years.”
Betty and her late husband Bruce first began their commitment to wheelchair tennis in 2003, when they agreed to assist with the hosting costs of the Canadian Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships in Stoney Creek, Ontario. Over the coming years, the family donated over $2 million to the Tennis Matters campaign, helping to provide Canada’s wheelchair tennis athletes with competitive opportunities and funding.
The Canadian National Wheelchair Tennis Championships, the biggest wheelchair tournament in Canada, was eventually renamed the Birmingham National Wheelchair Tennis Championships in their honour, as was the Birmingham Wheelchair Tennis Classic, an ITF Futures Series tournament.
In 2008, the Birmingham family also established the Birmingham Excellence Fund to assist with the coaching and training support for prospective Canadian Paralympic tennis athletes. Since establishing the fund, Canadians have been immensely successful on the international stage, winning its first Parapan Am bronze medal in 2015 and its first gold medal in 2021 when Rob Shaw was crowned singles champion in the quad category.
“The Birmingham family I think is wheelchair tennis in Canada,” said Shaw, current world No.6 in the quad division. “Without Bruce and Betty, we wouldn’t have a program. I really don’t think we’d be where we are today, with multiple athletes having gone to Paralympic Games and Parapan Am Games. And it trickles down; it’s not just the international high-level athletes who get the benefit of the Birmingham family, it’s the grassroots level as well. They are synonymous with Wheelchair Tennis Canada, and we’re just super fortunate to have them.”
“We have lost a fierce champion, wheelchair tennis supporter, and friend,” said Janet Petras, Director, High Performance Programs & Administration, Tennis Canada. “Betty’s kindness, compassion, and dedication were unmatched, and she will be dearly missed.”
Betty and Bruce were inducted into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame in 2020 for their immense contributions to Canadian wheelchair tennis over the last few decades. Without their relentless help and dedication to growing wheelchair tennis, the sport would be nowhere near where it is today. May Betty and Bruce’s legacy live through a strong and thriving wheelchair tennis community in Canada.