Obituary: ‘Fiercely loyal’ former Silver Fern Tilly Hirst remembered as one of Rotorua’s finest

Tilly Hirst (nee Vercoe) was laid to rest on Sunday but her achievements will live on in New Zealand sporting history.

Hirst, who died aged 79 on Friday, enjoyed an illustrious netball career and was arguably one of Rotorua’s finest sporting products.

She attended Rotorua High School before going on to become Silver Fern number 37, playing goal keep and goal defence.

She played for the team from 1967 to 1971, and was the vice-captain when they won the second-ever Netball World Cup in 1967.

That 1967 team was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

One who knew Hirst well was good friend and Silver Ferns teammate Coral Palmer, also from Rotorua.

The pair were part of the 1971 Silver Ferns side who finished runners-up at the third Netball World Cup in Jamaica.

Palmer said Hirst was fiercely loyal, quiet but firm, and a tough competitor on the court.

“We got along very well, she was one of my favourite people,” she said.

“In fact, all the women in her family I have the utmost respect and affection for because of who they were, the type of people they were. They had integrity, they were loyal, and they could always see what was right and what was wrong.”

Palmer played in the centre position and said Hirst, playing in defence, excelled at communicating with those ahead of her on the court.

“Tilly was tough and she could nut things out, she was a good thinker. She knew her position inside out and she was also in charge of the backline, so to speak.

“I played in front of her in centre and whatever she thought out, I got the orders from her and it worked really well.”

Hirst was not a particularly loud woman but knew how to get her point across when she needed to.

“She was quiet and quite firm,” Palmer said.

“She didn’t always have a lot to say, and was quietly spoken when she did, but people listened.”

Having known each other for years before and after their time in the Silver Ferns, Hirst and Palmer were good friends off the court as well.

“I would like to say that Tilly, and all the girls in her family, have been extremely close right throughout the years.

“She was honest, she had integrity, she didn’t muck around. There was no rubbish about her and she was quite firm but she had a really good sense of humour.

“I have a lot of good memories about old Tilly, she was extremely loyal. I think she will be really sadly missed, I was most upset when I heard she was gone. It was very hard but she has left wonderful memories.”

Back home, Hirst represented Rotorua from 1960-66 and 1968-72. With Rotorua she was a national champion in 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1967.

She also represented the North Island in 1963-66, 1968-70, and 1972.

In 2018, she was inducted into the Rotorua Boys’ High School Hall of Fame, which includes those who attended Rotorua High School.

Her name sits with other well-known Rotorua identities such as Sir Howard Morrison, Taini Jamison and Clayton McMillan.

After her Silver Ferns career, Hirst was employed at the Rotorua Police Station where she did clerical work.

Retired Rotorua policeman Phil Spackman remembers her fondly.

“She was always a fairly quiet and reserved lady,” he said.

“She was a thoroughly decent person, really respectful. She was a lovely lady and a neat person to be around.”

Spackman said Hirst had “considerable responsibility” at the police station and quietly went about her business.

Knowing of her exploits on the netball court, he was surprised she did not sign up for the station’s social side.

“The ladies had a netball team, my wife played in it, but Tilly never played,” he said.

“I asked Tilly once why she didn’t play and I think she thought she was past it and wanted to give the younger girls a chance.”

Death Notice: Tilly Titihuia Rangimatau Hirst (nee Vercoe).September 17, 1941 – June 4, 2021
Silver Fern number 37. The Vercoe and Hirst whānau are saddened to announce the passing of Tilly Titihuia Rangimatau Hirst.

Daughter of Ruhina and Raharuhi Vercoe, Sister to Aho, Lewis and Mary, Cathy and Vic, Edie, Henry and Bev, Bill and Marie, Barnett and Jo, Richard, Lyn and David.

Much loved aunty to her many nieces and nephews. Nanny to Eruera, Teimana and Joe and Mum to Caroline and Brett, whangai mum to Tangata, Brent and Rocco.

The beloved wife of Peter Hirst. Treasured member of the Baha’i community, loved friend, colleague and teammate. Tilly was laid to rest next to her husband on Sunday. Haere i te ara nunumi ki te pō, e Kui, oti atu e.

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