THE central Victorian and wider state netball communities are mourning the loss of an icon of the sport, Betty Thompson.
A revered administrator over many decades and a Netball Victoria life member, Thompson died on Thursday at Melton.
She was 88.
Her immense impact on the game will live on, including through the Bendigo Football Netball League's A-grade best and fairest award - the Betty Thompson Medal - presented in her honour since 1996.
The award has been won by a host of BFNL greats, more recently in 2019 by star midcourter Ashley Ryan, then playing with Eaglehawk, Gisborne's Maddy Stewart in 2018, and in 2017 by Sandhurst's Heather Oliver, who is one of four players to have won the medal twice, together with Sandhurst's Kris Greene (2002-03), Gisborne's Tiana Newman (2009 and '13) and Brianna Dalrymple-Monro (2011 with Sandhurst and 2016 with Strathfieldsaye).
Her involvement in Victorian netball spanned many decades and roles, from obtaining her A-Grade umpires badge and founding Central Victoria Umpires, to serving in executive and committee roles in associations, including the Echuca and District and Golden City associations.
A state councillor for Netball Victoria across the North Central region, Thompson received the Victorian Netball Association's Distinction Award in 1992 for her services to netball.
Her Netball Victoria life membership followed in 2002.
Netball Victoria northern region manager Pam Ferrari said the loss of Thompson would be felt by netball people across the state and nation, including past and present players, coaches, administrators, volunteers and supporters.
"We always called Betty Thompson a legend and she shied away from that, but Betty was a legend in this area and was always fighting for netball and for country netball," Ferrari said.
"She was very much a country netball person and was always trying to make sure that players and coaches and umpires in country areas were recognised for what they did and brought to the game.
"She was certainly a legend in these parts. Maybe in some ways, she did not appreciate the impact she had on a number of netballers and umpires and administrators too.
"I know from my perspective when I was coming through as admin at Golden City, Thommo was someone I always went to for advice and I worked with her in the umpiring field.
"She was fabulous to bounce ideas off her and to have discussions with. And they were always about netball - very rarely did I talk to Thommo about anything but netball.
"She always made herself available, even in later years. Someone would pick her up and get her to wherever she needed to be.
"She was a real people person."
An enduring image of Thompson, an avid spectator at BFNL and other central Victorian league matches over the years, was her seated on the sidelines with her Record in hand, keeping score, but always having time to speak with players and officials.
A regular traveller to world championships to support the Diamonds, Ferrari said Thompson had earned the respect of many international and national league players.
"I know when we had a Vixens match here (in Bendigo), Bianca Chatfield and Sharelle McMahon went to visit Betty at her home when she wasn't well," she said.
"They took her some flowers and spent some time with her. That was really great.
"She always had a soft spot for Sharelle as she was in charge in of the North Central when Sharelle first played for the region as a 15-and-under player."
Golden City Netball Association life member and former secretary Bev O'Shea has counted Thompson as one of her best friends for about 40 years and a brilliant and long-time mentor.
She said it was a sad day not just for netball people, but all others whose lives were touched by Thompson in other facets of her life.
"She was a genuinely lovely lady - you would struggle to find anyone with a bad word against Betty," she said.
"She was very intelligent, quite funny and witty and loads of fun to be around and very organised.
"It didn't matter who you were, or where you came from - young or old - she had time for everyone. It made no difference to Betty.
"She organised lots of holidays for all of us in netball - we went on lots of netball trips. The first one was to Sydney for the world championships and she took a busload of us up there and that's what started it really.
"We ended up traversing the world going to watch netball."
It didn't matter who you were, or where you came from - young or old - she had time for everyone. It made no difference to Betty.- Bev O'Shea
As an umpire badge tester, O'Shea said Thompson was always 'honest and fair' and resolutely determined to ensure prospective umpires prospered.
Familiar to each other through netball, O'Shea said it came as a shock to both early in their association to learn they lived within a few doors of each other.
"We actually didn't know that, but she was at one end of the street and I was at the other, but we met at netball," she said.
"She was determined to make a netball umpire out of me, but she didn't succeed at all.
Read more: Netball legend Carol Bingham remembered
"I got my badge, but I didn't particularly like umpiring. But we were friends from that time on.
"I think she needed to make sure she didn't fail again, so she kept me close to her. How lucky I was.
"The last few years have been very tough as she has not been well, but it (the friendship) has been a remarkable 40 years."
O'Shea said there would be few people in central Victorian netball who had not been impacted in some way by Thompson.
It is the second big loss suffered by the central Victorian netball community in the last five months, following the death of fellow legend and revered former Kangaroo Flat multiple-premiership coach Carol Bingham in September.
Both first-class organisers in their netball days, O'Shea said she was sure Thompson and Bingham were together in heaven organising things.
"As a friend said to me the other day, at least we know heaven will be exceedingly organised now that they are up there," she said.
In a statement released on Thursday evening, Netball Victoria said it was 'deeply saddened by the news of the passing of life member Betty Thompson'.
"Betty's dedication to fostering participation in umpiring was also invaluable," the statement said.
"Her time spent coaching junior umpires, critiquing and testing for umpiring badges drove an improvement in the standard of umpiring across the region.
"Our thoughts are with Betty's family, friends and all those in the Victorian netball community lucky enough to spend time with her."
AFL Central Victoria has expressed its condolences with a post on its social media platforms.
It reads: "Vale Betty Thompson.
"Betty is an icon of the Bendigo region with the BFNL A grade Best & Fairest Award being named in her honour.
"She will be sadly missed within the netball community, many will be sharing stories of her impact!
"The AFL Central Victoria community sends their condolences to Betty's family and friends."
Thompson is survived by her daughter Cheryl and sons Graham and Allan.
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