A pioneering and outstanding sportswoman
Alice Edith Wilhemina Patterson, better known as Alice Pennefather, was one of the most outstanding sportswomen of her time. In 1931 she became Singapore’s first women’s singles badminton champion. She not only continued to dominate the sport for many years but also excelled at tennis and hockey.
Part-Japanese, Part-Scot, Alice started playing badminton in 1919 after she married all-round sportsman Lancelot Maurice Pennefather. They met in 1918 through a friend and got married the following year when she was 16 and he 25.
With her husband as her coach, Alice entered the Singapore National Badminton Championships when ladies’ events were added in 1931, and she emerged the women’s singles champion, and doubles champion with Maude Lewis. She won the singles title again in 1932, 1934 and 1937.
By the mid-1930s, badminton had become a popular sport throughout Malaya and in 1937, at the Malayan Badminton Championships, Alice was the women’s singles winner, doubles winner and runner-up in the mixed doubles.
The energetic Alice continued to compete well into the 1940s and early 1950s, winning the Singapore National Badminton Championships mixed doubles in 1947, and again in 1951 at age 48.
She was equally good at tennis, and was the Singapore Ladies Tennis Champion in 1936. She was the first non-European woman champion since the women’s singles event was started in 1933. She continued to win the singles titles in the next two years.
The versatile Alice was also active in the Girls’ Sports Club (GSC), formed in 1930 to encourage Eurasian girls to participate in sport. From 1931 to 1958 (except during the Japanese Occupation from 1941 to 1945), Alice was the club’s hockey team captain. The GSC hockey team became one of the top teams in Singapore.
At the GSC’s 50th Golden Anniversary of its founding, the GSC named Alice as “The Outstanding Playing Member of the GSC”. It hailed Alice, popularly known as “The Grand Old Lady of Sport”, the “Evergreen Mrs Pennefather” and “The Sporting Grandmother” as a “fine all-rounder and an excellent sport”.
Alice and her husband had two sons, Ashton and Percy. The latter led Singapore’s national hockey team at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. For Percy’s daughter Annabel, lawyer, first female member of the Singapore National Olympic Council and first female president of the Singapore Hockey Federation, grandmother Alice was her role model for life: “She was a strong, sporty woman, truly a pillar of our family. She definitely held her own.”
Off the sports field, Alice continued to work well into her 70s. In 1979, when Alice and her husband celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, she was still working as a section head in Shaw Rentals. She died in 1983 aged 80.