It began as a way to meet new people and, later, allowed her to help others do the same. It has helped her settle into new communities and to discover new places the world over. All that thanks to a game of cards.
Val Rhead, who recently ‘retired’ from writing a weekly bridge column that ran for eight years, the last four of them on Huntsville Doppler, began playing the game more than 60 years ago when she was a teenager. Later, as a young wife, she used it as a way to make friends in the communities that she and her first husband moved to with their three young children.
After her then-husband, who worked in automotive engineering, died in a tragic accident while they were living in Columbus, Ohio, Val moved back to her hometown of Toronto with her children and studied to become a teacher. During a cross-Canada geography trip she met her now-husband, Peter Rhead, who later adopted the children. They have been married for nearly 50 years.
Once Peter and Val both retired, they decided to spend half their time at their family cottage in Huntsville and the other half of the year in Texas. Retirement also allowed them to expand their love for bridge, and they started to play duplicate bridge.
“If you get crummy hands playing social [bridge]you really can’t do much, but if you get a crummy hand in duplicate you can still do very well so that makes it quite an interesting game,” says Val. “The types of bridge are quite similar but the scoring system is different. The playing is the same in both types but duplicate bridge players play more conventions so it requires bit more memory work. Duplicate is also more competitive whereas social is more chatty.”
The Rhead’s annual trip to Texas each year sparked their interest in travel and the couple combined it with their love for bridge. On the drive through the States they would vacation in whichever place was hosting that year’s North American Bridge Championships. Over the years they have visited Orlando, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and many more destinations.
They have even combined bridge with their trips to places like New Zealand and England.
“We spent two months in New Zealand and before heading out we contacted different local bridge clubs and ended up going to 12 different clubs to play while we travelled. We made friends with many local people and had tons of fun, all while immersed in their culture!” says Val.
Since moving to Huntsville permanently in 2000, Val and Peter have been involved with the Huntsville, Bracebridge, Orillia and Gravenhurst (before it closed) bridge clubs.
Val and Peter are often partners when they play together and she says it’s important to play with someone who knows your strategies and skills.
“Bridge is really great for social connections which is important for seniors,” says Val. “When you get older you’re worried about your memory and these types of social interactions keep your brain going and you also develop strong friendships. For me, it took the place of my love for tennis after hurting my knee.”
Although she began playing only social bridge, Val mastered the skills for duplicate bridge and has taught many classes and courses on the game. From teaching neighbours and friends socially to teaching courses, Val has always loved introducing others to the game of bridge. For a while she taught a three-part course in Huntsville for people who wanted to transition from social bridge to duplicate bridge.
Her columns were a natural extension of sharing that knowledge, and featured many tips, tricks and conventions for both social and duplicate bridge.
“Many people have come up to me saying they liked my column or even giving me ideas of stuff they want to hear about in the column. It’s been such a fun little project over the years,” she says. She has written her columns from all over the world including South America, England and New Zealand, and in all the years she has been writing she missed just a single week due to a remote travel destination.
Val says she thought about compiling her many years of columns into a ‘bathroom bridge book’ but joked it would take too much organizing.
Those who have enjoyed her column won’t have to go without those valuable tips and tricks, though—Peter has taken over.
“Peter was always my proof reader and editor anyways so it was natural he took over the weekly column,” she says.
If you’d like to read Val’s past columns that have appeared on Doppler, and Peter’s recent ones, you’ll find all of them here. (Ed.—Thank you for your consistent, always timely, and entertaining contributions, Val!)
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