CHAMPION BLOKE: Max Lewis, president of the Ballina RSL Sub-branch, places a red poppy on the coffin of Stan Tilley during yesterday’s funeral service at St Mary’s Anglican Church in Ballina.
CHAMPION BLOKE: Max Lewis, president of the Ballina RSL Sub-branch, places a red poppy on the coffin of Stan Tilley during yesterday’s funeral service at St Mary’s Anglican Church in Ballina. Jacklyn Wagner

Farewell to legendary swim coach

TRIBUTES flowed for legendary swimming coach StanTilley yesterday, as hundreds attended his funeral in Ballina.

Mr Tilley died last week, aged 84, after a short illness.

Former swimming champions Petria Thomas, Dyana Calub and Jonathon Newton were in the crowd at his funeral in St Mary’s Anglican Church, which also included Mr Tilley’s two children, his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and fellow ex-servicemen.

On his coffin was a stopwatch – a symbol of his years as a swimming coach – and a photograph of him in his Royal Australian Air Force uniform.

The emotional eulogy was delivered by his son Greg, who was supported by his sister, Karen Pound.

He talked of the love between his mother and father, who were married for more than 60 years.

“They truly loved each other’s company most of all,” Greg said.

When Mr Tilley joined the RAAF the family moved to Blacktown, and that is where he developed his love of coaching.

He coached the RAAF swimming team for 10 years and it was beaten on only one occasion, Greg told mourners.

“That was the year I was in the Army team and everyone hassled him over that because he spent a lot of time cheering for the opposition,” he said.

“He also did two tours of Vietnam, but rarely spoke of it.”

In 1974 the Tilleys moved to Ballina, where Stan ran the newly-opened Ballina Swimming Pool before going to the Ballina Indoor Club.

It was there he discovered and nurtured several talented swimmers.

“But his enduring legacy, which we are most proud of, is the hundreds of kids he taught to swim,” Greg said.

“Rest in peace, mate.”

The Reverend Richard Brown said Mr Tilley was known in many different sectors of the community.

He mentioned his years of service with the RAAF and also his love of singing and his association with the Ballina Players.

“We are grieving the loss of a great Australian who gave so much to his community and to his country,” Rev Brown said.

“Many of the people here will know Stan from his years as a swimming coach, when you would have to get up early in the morning.

“And if you were late, I am sure Stan would have had a few words with you, particularly if you’d had a big night the night before.”

This was followed by laughs, and Jonathon Newton later revealed he and Dyana Calub had been in that position on several occasions.

Newton also said Mr Tilley – or Mr T as he was affectionately known by his students – was a ‘hard taskmaster’.

“But he was very well respected,” he said.

“Whenever people would ask me who my coach was, I’d tell them ‘Stan Tilley’, and everyone would know of him.

“It’s great to see how many people have turned out to give him a good send-off.”

Also speaking after the funeral, backstroke champion Dyana Calub said Mr Tilley was a great coach who meant a lot to her.

“He was a great man, and a hard coach and a hard trainer,” she said.

“But it was worth it. It was Stan who helped get me on to my first Australian team.”

Petria Thomas was Mr Tilley’s most successful swimmer, specialising in butterfly and going on to win a goldmedal at the Athens Olympics.

She also won 15 national titles.

“I owe a lot to Stan and I will miss him very much,” she said. “He really was like a grandfather to me.

“Whenever I came home to Mullumbimby I would try to catch up with him.”

Another of his champions, Adam Pine, could not be at the funeral, but his parents, Robert and Sharee, attended.

Ex-servicemen at the funeral placed their red poppies on the coffin.

Max Lewis, president of the Ballina RSL Sub-branch, said Mr Tilley was discharged from the RAAF in 1967 with the rank of leading aircraftman.

“He served (in the Vietnam War with the RAAF) because he knew how much freedom meant to his family,” he said.

Current president of the Ballina Indoor Club, Barry Kiddle, said Mr Tilley ‘lived for his swimming students’.

“He loved them and loved to watch them progress and succeed,” he said.


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