Rose Thompson (later Gillis)

Athlete, record breaker, WAAA Official, Technical Official, Team Manager

Rose Thompson (later Gillis) was born in West Plumstead, Woolwich on 6th October 1902; the elder of two daughters of Jennie and James Thompson.

From an early age, Rose was very sporty and active.  She was a talented hockey player and could probably have reached County standard. She was a founder member of Manor Park Ladies, which subsequently became Essex Ladies. As with many other single sex Clubs, in recent years Essex Ladies amalgamated with Woodford Green AC who had always been just a Men’s Club. She remained with the one Club throughout her life – indeed never relinquished her membership.

In 1923 at the age of 19 she finished second to outstanding sprinter of the day Mary Lines in the WAAA 100 yds Championships. That same year she represented England in a match against France and equalled the 100-yard world record.  The medal she won that day was used as the model for WAAA medals for years to come.  She won the 100 yards and sprint relay in the International Women’s Games and her Trophy is displayed, and she became WAAA Champion in 1925.  She was part of the team at the International Ladies Games in Gothenburg 1926, where she won the 100 yards.

Rose Thompson (centre) winning the 100 yards at the 2nd Ladies International Games in Gothenburg 1926

After her own very successful active career, she, together with her husband, maintained a life-long and active interest in the sport.  Her husband Jack had also been a very successful athlete, running for Surrey AC’s renowned medley relay team.   They became high level technical officials and were ever-present at any of the Southern or National women’s Championships and functions.

Jack Gillis was one of the starters at the 1948 Olympics, and as they had no children, Rose took her nephew, Ian (Deaves), to watch the Games.  Little did she know then that this would be a great legacy to the sport, as Ian and his wife, Susan, also became high-level technical officials, and have been continuously actively involved in administration of the sport at Southern and National level.

Between 1984 and 1993 The Rose Gillis Trophy, the WAAA trophy which bears Rose’s name, was awarded to winners of the intermediate girls’ 200m. However, from 2010 onwards the trophy has been awarded to the winner of the women’s pole vault. While this was not Rose’s event, women not being allowed to compete in Pole Vault until the 1990s, it was felt that the trophy bearing the name of Rose Gillis should celebrate the ground-breaking achievements still being made in women’s athletics.

The spikes which Rose wore when she broke the world record were made by the legendary G T Law, and were donated to her Club for their trophy cabinet.