Feisty, passionate, strongwilled and actively involved in everything squash related while flouting the convention that age defines what you are capable of, Angela Difford made a significant impact on the lives of those who knew her.
The 91-year-old mother of three and grandmother of six died suddenly early yesterday after being admitted to hospital following a fall at home.
She suffered broken neck vertebrae. “She was the most positive person you could ever meet,” Eastern Province Squash Committee (EPSC) secretary Lisa O’Grady said.
Former Springbok squash player and former national selector Difford was still coaching aspiring squash players on Tuesday afternoon.
Difford endured many hardships in her later years but did not allow anything to get her down.
“She was full steam in her life – still driving, coaching and recently started gym again,” her youngest son, Mark, said.
Surviving cancer, two knee replacement operations and a horrific rape ordeal in her late 70s did not deter Difford from making a difference in the lives of those she touched. Difford’s daughter, Trish, fondly nicknamed Peta by her mother, said Difford still had “a lot of life left in her”.
“She would make sure to spend birthdays and certain holidays with her children and grandchildren – she loved us all very much,” Trish said.
“She would often have a drink with me and my friends on a Friday evening,” Trish said.
Talking about the incident which ultimately led to his mother’s death, Mark said that after two coaching sessions on Tuesday afternoon, Difford had dinner with family and went to bed after not feeling well.
At about 2am, she got up and went to the bathroom. During this time, it is believed that she fainted and knocked her head on a bookcase.
When Mark went to see what had happened and helped her back to her bed, she said she was not in much pain but was later taken to hospital where it was found she had broken two vertebrae in her neck.
“They said the injuries were very serious and her chances of full recovery were very slim,” Trish said.
At about 3am yesterday, the family received a call from St George’s to inform them their mother had died.
“She had a heart attack – the nurses managed to revive her. After she was stabilised, she had another massive heart attack,” Trish said. Fighting back tears, Mark said: “She was always a great supporter of the underdog.”
O’Grady said: “She was like a second mother to me, and most other people [who knew her].”
Even after a rape ordeal near her home in Walmer in 2002, the then 77-year-old Difford spoke out about the experience to create awareness.
EPSC chairwoman Caroline Rose, who had been coached by Difford since the age of 15, said: “She was a fantastic person. She gave her heart to squash and people and brought a lot to Port Elizabeth.”
Last month, Difford received two top awards from Squash SA – the Ina Ackermann Memorial Award and a merit award for her work and contribution to the sport.
“She [Difford] did a lot for schools squash. She built youngsters through the ranks and was dedicated to teaching teachers to teach – she spent a lot of time with them, coaching them how to coach,” Rose said.
A former student of Difford, Alan Stapleton, described her as “[a] wife, mother, squash player, coach and administrator, politician, pioneer, suffragette, fighter, mentor, friend”, as well as being a soft, caring woman.
Difford’s funeral service will be held on Tuesday at 11.30am at St John’s Anglican Church in Walmer.