Tennis champion Don McIlwain had died aged 93, remembered as one of Maitland's sporting greats

TENNIS ACE: Local tennis champion Don McIlwain in his heyday. Mr McIlwain was a well known Maitland businessman and sports enthusiast.
TENNIS ACE: Local tennis champion Don McIlwain in his heyday. Mr McIlwain was a well known Maitland businessman and sports enthusiast.

Maitland has lost one of its true sporting legends.

Long time businessman and sports all rounder Don McIlwain died recently aged 93.

A man who lived a life full of adventure, humour, dedication and love, Don leaves behind a number of legacies including an association with Maitland District Tennis Club spanning more than five decades.

Born in Haberfield, Don spent his primary school years at Wallarobba near Dungog, where his father, also named Don, was the teacher in a single teacher school.

He spent his childhood surrounded by dairy farms, trapping rabbits, gathering mushrooms and sliding in car tyres down the hill.

Maitland Boys High School was a train ride away for the teenager until 1936 when the family moved to Bolwarra.

At 14, Don started playing competition tennis which became a major part of his life. Coming from a family of tennis players he was a natural. His uncle Jack Crawford (his mother Alice’s younger brother) held a number of championships and was a runner up in a mixed doubles team playing at Wimbledon in 1928. Don was inspired and aimed for the stars.

He won his first Maitland District first grade singles title when he was 17. This was a feat he repeated another 23 times. He went on to win many prestigious titles across the Hunter and NSW. He also coached scores of Maitland juniors over 30 years. Don was active in helping move Maitland District Tennis Club from Maitland Park to Victoria Street, East Maitland after it was ravaged in the 1955 flood.

But there was much more to Don than tennis. He was active in and held high positions with Rotary, RSL and the Masonic Lodge.

Don McIlwain’s Sports Store, where you could get everything from a hair cut to a rifle, was a thriving Maitland business in the 1960s operating from a premises where Lowe’s now stands. Long time Maitland barber Leigh McIntyre set up his business at the rear of the store and in 1973, the pair moved to larger premises next to the Dutch Cake Shop.

Don’s love for all sports both as a competitor and spectator never waned and if it was too dark or the weather was bad, there was always a deck of cards.

This story Don McIlwain lived a life of adventure, humour, dedication and love first appeared on The Maitland Mercury.