The day a West Pinchbeck mum met “the greatest” ... boxer Muhammad Ali

Flashback to 1978: Muhammad Ali with Rita and Tom Scholes.
Flashback to 1978: Muhammad Ali with Rita and Tom Scholes.
0
Have your say

It was one of the greatest days in the life of West Pinchbeck woman Rita Scholes when she met three times world heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali.

Rita, now 93, and her then husband, Tom, were in America in 1978 and met Ali at his training headquarters in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

He (Ali) said he had heard we were from England and asked if we would like to have a picture taken with him.

Rita Scholes speaking in 1978

Her niece, Lorraine Buckingham, said Rita moved to Southfield House care home in Woolram Wygate, Spalding, about a year-and-a-half ago.

Lorraine said her aunt can still remember the day she met Ali, who died on Friday aged 74, although her memory is not as good as it once was.

It was a big thing for the couple at the time, who shared their story with the Free Press and Spalding Guardian.

The couple were on a 14-day holiday in America when they posed for a souvenir photo with Ali.

Rita told us at the time: “There are no guards round his camp.

“We just went up a mountain path and then came to his chapel and a lot of cabins.

“Out came his publicity manager, one of the handsomest men I’ve ever seen, and when our friend said we were from England we were told Ali would be out in a minute.”

Ali appeared and the couple were delighted when he came up to them.

Rita continued the story: “He said he had heard we were from England and asked if we would like to have a picture taken with him.”

The Scholes had left their camera behind but luckily their friend Winifred Petch, who used to live in Sleaford, had her camera.

Rita described Ali as ‘just lovely’.

She and Tom were fascinated by the camp, had a peep in the gym and noticed ‘a lot of pretty girls around the place’.

Rita said: “The most noticeable thing were the huge stones set round the camp with the names of boxing stars of the past on them.”

The trip to America was Rita’s first visit for 15 years and a reunion with her son.

Rita had previously lived in Pennsylvania for 17 years before returning to England and marrying Tom.

It was Tom’s first visit to America.

Lorraine said Tom, who had worked as a smallholder, died around 20 years ago.

The couple had kept their souvenir photo of Ali as a reminder of their great day.

Lorraine said Rita has been unwell lately.

Lorraine mentioned to her that Ali had died and Rita could recall their meeting all those years ago.

“She can remember things further back than she can more recently,” said Lorraine.

“Like the rest of the family, I watched Ali because he was a great entertainer.”

Lorraine said it was a big thing for the family when they learned Rita and Tom had met Ali, but everyone was surprised to see just how tall he was compared to Rita and Tom.

“But they were only about 5ft or just over,” said Lorraine.