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Sandra Gail Tewkesbury

Gary L Ritchie

Page Unfinished

Cemetery Lot Number...


In Memory of Sandra Gail Tewksbury Ritchie
Wife of Gary L Ritchie
1942 - 1962
Member of Chatham Figure Skating Club
Triple Gold Medalist
Canada, United States, Great Britain
Doubles Silver Dance Medalist
Canada, United States,
1959 North American and World Team
1960 Canadian Olympic Team

This information is COPYRIGHT to Jim and Lisa Gilbert and MUST NOT be reproduced in any way. We wish to thank them for their permission to post this!


As 2009 came to a close and Christmas quickly approached there was a rather festive, celebratory few days in Chatham-Kent as the Olympic torch passed through the municipality. Our area was one of many spots the torch passed through on its way to Vancouver and the 2010 Winter Olympics scheduled to begin on February 12th.

The idea of the world getting together to celebrate sportsmanship and friendship and understand one another a bit more is an absolutely wonderful concept. However , in the to-day's world everything seems to be reduced to mere competition and winning seems to be the only thing that counts.

I prefer to recall a cold Winter Olympics fifty years ago as the hype swirls around us like a winter storm in the frenetic days leading up to the current Winter Olympics. I prefer to bring to your attention a little wisp of a girl, eight years older than I was, whose name was on the lips of everyone in Southwestern Ontario and who was the pride of Chatham at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, USA.

Sandra Tewkesbury’s path to a skating berth on the Canadian Olympic figure skating team, on the surface, seemed to be a mercurial rise. However, the average person failed to comprehend the fact that this young lady who, when she began skating, weighed only forty pounds spent seven years and over 15,000 hours preparing for her brief fleeting moment in the spotlight at Squaw Valley.

A talented athlete interested in a number of sports she, as a young girl, was an accomplished swimmer and badminton enthusiast. She once confessed, in a newspaper interview, that skating was not her favourite spectator sport but that football was what she loved to watch.

A key turning point in her young life was the day that a mysterious gentleman from the Chatham-Kent area known only as “Mr. X” asked officials of the Chatham Figure Skating Club to identify for him a young skater who showed great promise. They, of course, pointed to the little waif almost floating over the ice like a phantom.

“Mr. X” then approached Sandra Tewkesbury and her parents and offered to sponsor her if she was truly serious about embarking upon a skating career. The Tewkesburys as a family agreed and Sandra decided to pursue her dream in earnest. Pursuing her dream in earnest of course meant getting professional coaches, much more ice time and expensive skates, costumes etc.

In all likelihood, if “Mr. X” had not appeared out of virtually no where like a mysterious angel, Sandra’s ice skating career may have been only a short-lived teenage passion that was fun but quickly forgotten in the day to day pursuit of an adult life and career.

I would love to know who “Mr. X” was as his generosity is the kind of thing that local legends are constructed around. The desire to not reveal his name in any public manner makes him an even more intriguing figure. We need more people like this in to-day’s world.

It soon became apparent that the money invested in the young athlete was money very well spent. At eleven years old she became one of the youngest skaters in Canadian ice dancing history to win the Canadian Figure Skating Association Silver Dance Medal. In the very same year, Sandra also won the U.S. Figure Skating Association’s pre-gold dance medal.

As she matured, Sandra Tewkesbury ‘s career in ice dancing became secondary to her singles skating that was to occupy most her skating career.

In 1956, four years before Squaw Valley she enjoyed her most successful year. In the space of two months she became the world’s youngest and only skater to win three gold medals in international competitions. In April of that year the fourteen year old won the United States gold medal, the Canadian gold medal and then in May she went to England and captured the United Kingdom’s National Skating Association Gold Medal. It was, at the time an unheard of accomplishment, and quickly vaulted the teenager to the ranks of the worlds’ best skaters.

As the 1950s came to a close and the 1960 Winter Olympics began to come into view, the talented teenage skater from Chatham, Ontario seemed posed to tackle her biggest challenge. It must have seemed to her, at her tender age, a time when the whole world stretched out in front of her in a series of new rewards. The future must have seemed full of excitement, new challenges and the promise of an exciting life-long career doing what she loved best.

Next week…the vagaries and tragedies in the life of Chatham’s skating star of the 1950s.


Last week, as the 2010 Winter Olympics close in upon us and the usual hype and commercialism that seems to dominate the most recent Olympic venues increases, we chose to take a look back at a slightly more innocent time when the Olympics seemed, at least on the surface, to embody the true essence of world competition.

And when the 1960 Winter Olympics began in Squaw Valley, California there was not a more innocent young athlete than Chatham’s own Sandra Tewkesbury who was one of the brightest stars on the Canadian ice- skating team

Sandra Tewkesbury’s climb up the ice skating ladder to gain a berth on the Canadian Olympic team was nothing short of breath taking. She began skating as a forty pound ten year old in 1952. It was reported that she weighed so little that ice skating judges had difficulty in marking her scores as her figures on the ice were so faint.

By 1956, thanks to a mysterious and generous local sponsor (known only as “Mr. X”) who helped to pay for her lessons, ice time and clothing apparel she had won three gold medals (in the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom). She was at the top of her ice skating career and by April of that year, Sandra’s father, Mr. A.O. Tewkesbury of 39 Wilson Avenue in Chatham, hinted in an interview with the Chatham Daily News that his daughter “has her eye on a berth on Canada’s next Olympic team”.

In 1957, Sandra continued her winning ways by winning the Canadian Senior Championship in Niagara Falls in January, as well as winning at the Region Skating trials.

In the early art of 1959 she continued her rise in the skating world? She placed third at the Canadian Championships, fifth in the North American events and tenth in the world competition in Colorado

In September of 1959, she placed first among all the women skaters at the Canadian Olympic skating trials and was chosen to represent Canada at the 1960 Winter Olympics to be held at Squaw Valley, California in 1960.

Skating her best among the world’s best, Sandra Tewkesbury at the age of eighteen managed to place tenth in the world. The fact that she had placed tenth in 1959 at the world competition event leads one to think, in light of what we know now in 2008 about the history of judging in figure skating, that she was destined to be tenth in the world at Squaw Valley no matter how she performed. However…. that is really immaterial to our story.

The important thing to keep in mind about Sandra Tewkesbury is that from 1952 to 1960 she put Chatham, Ontario on the map throughout the figure skating world and she did it in an earnest, innocent, sweet fashion full of passion and totally lacking in attitude or ego. She was in the truest sense of the word a perfect example of what an Olympic athlete should be.

That being said, it makes it even more difficult to finish our story for it ends on a terribly tragic and so undeserving a note.

In June of 1962, two years after her Olympic performance, Sandra Tewkesbury had retired from professional skating, had married a former employee of the advertising staff of the Chatham Daily News ( Gary Ritchie), had taken a part time job as an instructor with the Guelph Figure Skating Club and was living with her husband in Galt. She was looking forward to having her first child.

Driving alone on Highway # 7 about one mile from the city limits of Guelph, she was involved in a car accident that pinned her within her vehicle until police officers were able to free her. Five hours later the former skating star died in a Guelph hospital.

The tragedy was further deepened by the fact that her parents were notified by authorities and initially told to go to the hospital in Galt. By the time the mistake had been rectified and her parents arrived at the Guelph hospital, Sandra Tewkesbury Ritchie had, along with her unborn infant, passed.

Funeral rites were held at the Stephens Funeral Home in Chatham and one can, to-day, visit her grave in Maple Leaf Cemetery in Chatham where she is buried along side her parents. In fact, it was unexpectedly coming upon her grave earlier this year that brought back distant memories of this very talented young lady who never got the chance to grow old.

Enshrined in one of the glass cases at Chatham’s Memorial Arena are some faded artifacts dealing with the former Canadian ice skating sensation as well as a picture of the unbelievably young girl who accomplished so much in such a brief span of time. Her youthful demeanour stares back at all who choose to stop and ponder this display.

Her picture speaks to all of us about the fragile and fickle nature of life that in so many instances seems so unfair and unfathomable. Sandra Tewkesbury Ritchie would have been a mere sixty seven years old to-day and, if alive, I wager that she would have watched a few Olympic events this February and maybe even taken a few bitter-sweet moments in to recall her own Olympic experiences.

She would have recalled a time in her life when the world must have seemed vibrant, alive, exciting and full of great promises. She would have reveled in her past accomplishments and looked forward to even more success as a wife, a mother and a coach.

Life offers no promises for tomorrow and even the most wonderful life can turn so sour in such a brief period of time. We should all live our lives as if there is no tomorrow. We should all remember the life and times of Sandra Tewkesbury who had it all and then, in a few tragic totally and unexpected moments lost it all. Such has life always been and such is life will always be.

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