A WORLD champion bowler who was a stalwart of the sport in Oxfordshire for decades has died.

Irene Molyneux, who was 96, won gold at the 1981 Bowls World Championships and claimed a host of national titles.

She was a dedicated member of Oxford City & County Bowls Club alongside her late husband, Jim, and helped Oxfordshire win several national titles.

Ms Molyneux is thought to have grown up in Abingdon and began playing club bowls when she lived in Yarnton.

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There were not many women at the top of the game at the time, but Ms Molyneux’s graceful delivery helped her rise through the sport.

During this time, she played for Begbroke Bowls Club, near Kidlington, and the Cherwell Indoor Bowls Club – now the Oxford and District Indoor Bowls Club.

But Ms Molyneux is best remembered for her time at the Oxford City & County Bowls Club, based in Marston Ferry Road.

She was the county’s competition secretary for many years and developed a reputation as a dedicated player who was always happy to pass on her vast knowledge to younger members.

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Ms Molyneux’s breakthrough year came in 1974, when she won the national women’s triples title and reached the final of the women’s fours.

One year later, she made her debut for the England women’s senior team and represented her country with distinction until 1984, plus an additional series in 1992.

In 1976, Ms Molyneux won the national women’s pairs with Margaret Lockwood - another Oxfordshire player with whom she enjoyed success with on the green.

Back-to-back appearances in the final of the national women’s fours came in 1978 and 1979, but on both occasions she was on the losing side.

The late 1970s and early 1980s was a glittering period for Ms Molyneux, who claimed two national crowns in 1979.

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As well as winning her second national triples title, she became the first Oxfordshire bowler to win the two-wood singles title in 1979.

Arguably the greatest achievement of Ms Molyneux’s career came at the 1981 World Championships in Toronto, when fate intervened to hand her a global crown.

She had travelled to Canada as manager of the England team, but joined the quartet after Devon’s Gloria Thomas withdrew through injury.

Ms Molyneux became part of the gold-medal winning team and also deputised for Ms Thomas in the women’s pairs to claim bronze.

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After becoming a gold medal winner, she helped Oxfordshire to the inter-county Johns Trophy four times between 1983 and 1995.

Ms Molyneux finally won the national women’s fours final in 1986 and went on to win the women’s triples in 1991 and 1996.

She continued to enjoy success into her late 70s, reaching the women’s fours final for the last time in 2000.

By this time, Ms Molyneux had returned to Abingdon.

Her only son, James, died in early 2018, while Ms Molyneux herself suffered from ill health during the final years of her life.

She passed away in hospital on Thursday, June 27. Her funeral arrangements are not yet known.