Remembering Valerie who taught thousands of women to keep fit

Valerie Ryall has been made a life member of Norfolk Keep Fit Association.

A memorial service will be held to Valerie Ryall on September 11 - Credit: ANTONY KELLY

She was an inspiration to one and all. Derek James pays tribute to a remarkable woman who taught thousands of people across Norfolk to…keep fit

It was to be her last class. Sitting in a chair teaching the WI ladies of Neatishead to keep fit. Two weeks later Valerie Ryall had died. She was 88.

I suspect many of you will have known or heard of Val who dedicated so much of her long life to helping others in a host of different ways.

She died last year and now a memorial service is being held at St Lawrence Church in Brundall on Saturday, September 11 where she had lived with her late husband Norman and children Robert, Peter and Catherine for 27 years.

Valerie Ryall (seated) at her last keep fit class with members of Neatishead WI before her death.

Valerie Ryall (seated) at her last keep fit class with members of Neatishead WI before her death. - Credit: Family Collection

Following the death of Norman in 1994 she married Paul in 2003 and later returned to live in Neatishead where she carried on teaching others to keep fit.

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She told me how the warmth and friendship she received from fellow members of the KFA in difficult times was something to cherish.

Today ways of keeping fit are rarely out of the headlines but it was a very different time when Val, a founding member of the Norfolk branch of the Keep Fit Association, starting teaching people to enjoy themselves at the same time.

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And how people loved her. She was a star. Also working in different ways to help others.

Almost ten years ago I told how Val had been made a  life member of the Norfolk branch of the KFA as a gesture of thanks for all her wonderful work.

“It really is such a worthwhile association,” she said.

Valerie Ryall has been made a life member of Norfolk Keep Fit Association.

Valerie Ryall was a life member of Norfolk Keep Fit Association. - Credit: ANTONY KELLY

The KFA emerged in Sunderland back in the 1920s under the banner Keep Fit Adventure and by the 1950s had spread across country.

It was started in Norfolk by Jean Chapman (Day) and took off.

Val joined the Eastern Counties Keep Fit Association in the 1960s and became a founder member of the Norfolk branch.

She soon became a popular teacher with classes for people of all ages…and how they loved her.

This was just the start. Val went on to be a teacher at keep fit training courses across Norfolk and Suffolk while running her own classes and working with groups of people with special needs.

Then in 1977 she was asked to be one of four Eastern Counties Keep Fit Association members representing England at demonstrations in London and Glasgow.

Val, by now a leading figure in the keep fit movement across the city and county, was rewarded by receiving a Norwich Service to Sport Award and she was responsible for forming many classes for people of all ages.

Aged 47 she was won the over 30 category of the Sports Council Service to Sport awards for the Eastern Region.

Valerie with her children Peter, Robert and Catherine. 

Valerie with her children Peter, Robert and Catherine. - Credit: Family Collection

This busy mother-of-three worked at both the Vauxhall Centre and the Marion Road Day Centre in Norwich over the years devoting so much of her life to helping others in many different ways.

Her daughter Catherine, who lives in Australia but is back in this country for a few months, said that since 2012 she and husband Paul had lived at Neatishead and she continued to be involved with the KFA…teaching a chair-based class in the village.

“I was lucky enough to attend a few of these classes, each time I came over from Australia, and it was so wonderful to see how both the preparation of her class and its delivery kept her so active right to the end of her live. She taught her very last class only a fortnight before she died,” said Catherine.

The family, husband Paul, her brother Tony (now 92), sons Robert and Peter with Catherine and grandchildren Thomas, Elinor and Sasha would, wherever they were living, meet up at Sea Palling in the summer each year.

She loved Norfolk…and Norfolk loved Val.

If you would like to go to the memorial service at Brundall next Saturday (September 11) please call Catherine on 07459 732039.

About the KFA

Eastern Counties Keep Fit Association hold classes in Norwich, Acle, Brundall and in both Yarmouth and Beccles area. For further details click on

The association is always looking for new teachers, so if you have ever considered becoming a KFA teacher, or returning to teaching, now is the time to seriously think about it again.

If you are interested in starting a very rewarding career contact Jackie Winder, National Training Qualification Secretary at or Jackie on 07979 750382.

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