IPC saddened by the passing of British Paralympic pioneer Sue Masham 

The British Paralympian Baroness Sue Masham of Ilton spent a lifetime improving the lives of people with disabilities and was a champion, campaigner, and ambassador for disability rights 14 Mar 2023
A woman in a wheelchair passes the Paralympic Flame through a torch to another woman, also holding a torch.
Sue Masham (right) passed the Paralympic Flame to Eva Loeffler, daughter of Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, during the London 2012 Torch Relay from Stoke Mandeville Stadium to the British capital.
ⒸWheelPower Archive Stoke Mandeville

The IPC sends it condolences to the family and many friends of pioneering British Paralympian and disability campaigner Baroness Sue Masham of Ilton, who passed away aged 87 years on Sunday, 12 March. 

Masham acquired her disability after damaging her spinal cord in a riding accident in 1958. She was a patient at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, England, where she met Dr. Ludwig Guttman who was in charge of the spinal injuries centre.  

Dr. Guttmann is the father of the Paralympic Movement. He pioneered how sport could be used to improve the lives of people with impairments. In 1948 he organised the first competition for wheelchair athletes which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games, a milestone in Paralympic history.  

Sport was compulsory as part of the treatment and rehabilitation process at the hospital and it was to prove life-changing for Masham. In 1960, two years after her accident, she was one of the 209 athletes who competed in the first Paralympic Games in Rome.  

Masham had earlier helped raise money to cover the air fares for around 50 wheelchair athletes to compete in Rome by taking part in an archery demonstration at an event called the Finmere Show, which for decades raised money for the Paraplegic Sports Fund at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.   

The event was established in 1959 by friends and family of Sally Haynes, who was a patient at Stoke Mandeville with Masham, after also suffering a spinal injury in a horse riding accident. The 1960 show was very successful, raising GBP £3,097, with the cheque then presented to Dr. Guttmann.  

At the 1960 Paralympic Games Masham won three medals, gold in the 25m breaststroke complete C2 and bronze in the 25m backstroke complete C2. She also secured a Para table tennis bronze in the women’s doubles B. She notably lost her gold medal while having dinner by the Trevi Fountain, with the Italian media reporting that she had thrown it into the fountain. 

Four years later at the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games Masham won three silver medals in Para swimming, 25m freestyle prone complete C2, 25m freestyle supine complete C2, and 25m breaststroke complete C2. She also won her first gold in Para table tennis, securing gold in the women’s doubles B.  

In Masham's final Games, at Tel Aviv 1968, she added Para table tennis silver in the women’s doubles B and bronze in the women’s singles B.

On 30 December 1969, The London Gazette formally announced the life peerage to the British House of Lords of The Right Honourable Susan Lilian Primrose, Baroness Masham, for “social services and services to the handicapped”.

Masham later recalled: “Guttmann was very pleased about that. He said to me, 'Oh, you must make them aware of other disabled people'".

And she did. Masham spent a lifetime improving the lives of people with disabilities and was a champion, campaigner, and ambassador for disability rights. She also went on to establish the Spinal Injuries Association in 1974 and was Vice President of WheelPower, Great Britain's national organisation for wheelchair sports.

She spent a total of 53 years in the House of Lords, more than any other female peer in history. 

In 2012, Masham was one of the team members given the honour of starting the Paralympic Torch Relay on its journey from Stoke Mandeville Stadium to the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.