Obituary : Karen Trillo. Blackjack #31

April 23, 2021

Karen Trillo recently passed away in Whanganui at the age of just 62.

The name may not ring a bell to a lot of lawn bowlers - she had in latter years reverted to her maiden name.  But as Karen Coombe (her married name) she became a force in both indoor and outdoor bowls in the 80s and 90s.

“She was a sensational bowler,” says Gary Lawson.  “I was lucky enough to win the National Indoor Pairs with her in 1995.  She just drew bowl after bowl … toucher after toucher … she was a machine.  Frankly, I only just chipped in towards the end.”

“I just happened to be watching the final on YouTube a few weeks ago.  She was magnificent.  In fact, I regard Karen as one of the best indoor bowlers of all time.”

“She was also a wonderful person,” says Gary.  “Chatty … with a heart of gold.  She was great to be around.   And had a lot of determination as well.  That’s what makes a good bowler ... wanting to win.”

Sharon Sims also played with Karen at the top level, but in the outdoor game.

“We went to the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games together,” says Sharon.  ”I played with her in the Fours with Anne Lomas and Patsy Jorgensen.  If I remember rightly, we just missed out on making the medal round.”

“We also played together in the Pairs in the Aussie Open, and were runners-up.  She was a very good bowler.  And because she was in Whanganui and I was in Palmerston North, I came across her on the green a fair bit – but more often playing against her than with her!”

“It was great to get a phone call from her earlier this season out of the blue,” says Sharon.  “She was back playing after taking a long break from bowls.  Next thing I hear she was in the team that won the Whanganui Centre Fours a few weeks ago.  And in the Singles final.  It was a remarkable comeback.  Particularly when I hear that she was so unwell.”

Marlene Castle was also in the New Zealand lawn bowls team at Kuala Lumpur (Marlene teamed with Judith Payne in the Pairs).

“She was a very good player,” says Marlene, “and a lovely lady as well.  After the games, we played together in the Trans-Tasmans.”

Karen was also selected for the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, where the Triples team of Karen, Dale Lang and Genevieve Baildon finished seventh.

“She achieved a heck of a lot in both indoor and outdoor bowls,” says bowls philomath Grant Hassall. ”Her father, Brian Trillo, who guided and supported Karen, was a very good bowler as well.  He was runner-up in the National Singles and Fours in 1985, and was in the Aramoho team that won the New Zealand Interclub title in 1992.”

“But he never managed to achieve what his daughter Karen did.  She was for a time Whanganui’s finest bowler. I think Brian won 21 Centre titles, but Karen won 35.  She illustrated her class by winning New Zealand titles in the Champion-of-Champions Singles (2000) and the National Club singles (2008).”

Another of Whanganui’s finest bowlers is equally effusive about her efforts.

“She made a remarkable comeback this year,” says Keith Slight, “Despite having obvious health issues, she skipped a team to win the Whanganui Women’s Open Fours only weeks ago and was runner-up to Rene Stratford  in the Singles the same weekend.”

“She was one of only a few women of that her era who played a little more aggressively than most.  It lead to her many successes.  Twice I sold her a new set of bowls … she was always looking for that edge over her competitors.”

“I’m sure both Reen and Peter Belliss (married a few weeks ago and on their honeymoon) would’ve had many kind words to say about Karen.”

But it was her indoor bowls record that was the most remarkable.

“Karen won 25 Wanganui Indoor Bowls titles between 1978 and 1996,” says Alex Reed, Archivist from Bowls New Zealand. “She won the National Indoor Fours in 1983 and the Pairs in 1995.  She represented the North Island in indoor bowls 9 times from 1984 to 1996, and she represented New Zealand in 1989, 1991, 1993 and 1995.”

“She won 4 Australasian Indoor Bowls titles : the Women’s Pairs in 1989; the Mixed Fours in 1991; the Women’s Triples in 1993; and the Women’s Fours in 1993.”

But in the lawn bowls world she will be most remembered for becoming Blackjack #31 in 1998.

The passing of Karen Trillo will not only be a great loss to family and friends, but a great loss to the bowling world, both indoor and outdoor, as well.

RIP Karen Trillo.