Ron Atkins remembered as 'one in a million'

HAPPY MEMORIES: Ron Atkins and daughter Laurel in 1996 (left) and at the 30th anniversary of the IBSF world snooker championships in 2010 (right).
HAPPY MEMORIES: Ron Atkins and daughter Laurel in 1996 (left) and at the 30th anniversary of the IBSF world snooker championships in 2010 (right).

Spare a thought for Tasmanians playing snooker in the era of Ron Atkins - they didn’t stand a chance.

Widely regarded as the state’s best snooker player of all time, Atkins passed away on Sunday at the age of 80, leaving behind a grateful extended family and a sporting CV that will surely never be surpassed.

Born on April 14 1937, Atkins attended Launceston Church Grammar School and was known from an early age as having a natural gift for sport.

After losing his left leg in a shooting accident he took up snooker, practising at every opportunity before joining a club for the first time at the age of 21.

A remarkable career followed.  

DETERMINED: Atkins at the IBSF world snooker championships in Launceston in 1980. Picture: Supplied

DETERMINED: Atkins at the IBSF world snooker championships in Launceston in 1980. Picture: Supplied

Between 1964 and 1977 Atkins swept all Tasmanian competition aside, winning 14 consecutive Northern Tasmanian and state titles thanks to a run of 90 successive victories.

This period of dominance was capped off by three consecutive Australian championships from 1975, securing a national record in 1977 by losing only three frames on his way to the title.  

By 1987 he had added two Victorian titles to his record, leaving his state and regional championship record at 39 appearances and 32 finals - all of which he won.

Atkins also found success at the International Billiards and Snooker Federation world snooker championships, bowing out in the 1976 quarter-final to eventual champion Doug Mountjoy and finishing runner-up at the 1980 instalment, which was held in Launceston. 

After securing another handful of Northern and Tasmanian championships at the turn of the century, Atkins retired in 2003 after nearly 50 years in the game.

Wife Leanne said Atkins’ determination had played a huge part in his success.

“In Ron’s time, to win a Tasmanian title you had to win every single game, you could not lose a game and he did that every year for 14 years,” Mrs Atkins said.  

“The format changed a little bit and it became a round robin, so it changed in that you could still lose a match and go through as top seed in your group... he never lost.

“He had a very strong safety game, he wouldn’t take a shot on if he knew he couldn’t get it, so he would outwit and outplay his opponents just with that dogged determination... that strength of character would push him over the line. 

“He was skilful and could read a game incredibly well and was very respected in the playing fraternity.”

Atkins’ determination was perhaps most evident in a famous match with good mate and Victorian rival Bob McLass.

“Bob and Ron were mates and they’d played in the same tournaments for years, they were playing in an Australian semi-final and Bob decided he was going to win.

“It’s best of nine and Bob had won the first four, so he only had to win one more, and they went to the toilet.

“Ron tells me a story where Bob was washing his hands and he looked in the mirror at Ron and said ‘I’ve got you now mate, only one to go’ and Ron smiled and didn’t say a word. 

“And Ron said ‘I washed my face with water and I hitched up my belt one notch and went back out there and beat him 5-4’ - that’s what he was like.”

Atkins also served the sport in an administrative role for 28 years, which included a decade as Tasmanian Billiards and Snooker Association president.

His service to the sport saw him inducted into the Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame in 1992 and four years later, he was the recipient of an Order of Australia Medal.

He was also a life member of the ISBF. 

Mrs Atkins said her husband had worked in several jobs, serving as a probation officer, a corporate headhunter, a billiard fitter, and the driving force behind the Ron Atkins Leisure Centre in Launceston.

“He was just a very natural person - he loved life and he was a real fighter.

“He had a terminal illness, pulmonary fibrosis, and he was diagnosed 10 years ago and given three years to live, so that says it all really.

“He lived longer than anybody ever expected and longer than any other person with that illness, so I’m told.”

Atkins, who married twice, is survived by five children and a host of grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“He was an honest and impeccable man in judgment and more than anything else he was a man who had a great sense of right and wrong - he’d fight for anybody and anything that was right.

“In terms of his playing career he said to me that he’d achieved everything he ever wanted in the sport and more, so he left this world with nothing left he wanted to do, no regrets, just a really full life.

“I feel very blessed, he was one in a million.” 

Atkins’ funeral will be held in Launceston on Friday.

Atkins accolades

  • IBSF world snooker championships runner-up 1980, quarter-finalist 1976
  • Australian snooker champion 1975-77
  • Victorian snooker champion 1984, 1987
  • Tasmanian snooker champion 1964-77, 1979, 1999
  • Northern Tasmanian snooker champion 1964-77, 1979, 1997-99, 2002
  • National record holder for most open state titles in succession (14, 1964-77), least number of frames lost in a national championship (3,1977), and most national championship matches won in succession (20, 1975-78)
  • Order of Australia Medal 1996
  • Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame inductee 1992