TRIBUTES have been paid to a rowing club stalwart and former special needs teacher who has died.

Wendy Pearce, 66, died peacefully at her Weymouth home after a long illness with her husband Duff and family by her side.

Cornish-born Mrs Pearce was deputy headteacher at the former Westfield School until retirement in 2008 and a founder member of Weymouth Rowing Club to which she devoted much of her spare time.

Members said she played a central part in club life from the beginning, filling the roles at various times of coxswain, coach, honorary secretary, ladies captain and vice captain. She also became the main author of comprehensive programmes for training on and off the water, bringing her expertise to the Cornish Pilot Gig Association acting as welfare officer.

Grandmother Mrs Pearce was honoured to lead a crew of local teenagers for a historic row as part of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant in 2012. She met the Queen at a Buckingham Palace tea party in June 2013.

A statement from Weymouth Rowing Club said: “Wendy is sorely missed. She laid the foundations upon which the club has grown to be one of the biggest in the gig world, one with the policies and procedures in place without which it would not be possible for the club to have achieved so much both for its members and for the wider community such as the many school crews who recently took part in the Dorset Schools Gig Championship.”

Mrs Pearce, who grew up in Cornwall and later Bournemouth, trained as a teacher in London before moving back to Dorset. She joined Christchurch Rowing Club in 1979.

She moved to Weymouth in 1990 and was the first person to join the town’s rowing club when it launched in 2001. She married her long-term partner Duff at the World Pilot Gig Championships in the Scilly Isles in 2003.

Karen Bidwell, who took over as deputy head at Westfield from Mrs Pearce, said: “You couldn’t meet a more supportive, dedicated and passionate deputy head than Wendy. She was a shining star and she’ll never be forgotten.”

Former headteacher Phil Silvester said: “She was a wonderful lady - engaging, witty, kind and – in adversity – a ‘rock’. I am both delighted and proud to have worked alongside her.”

The funeral will be held tomorrow at Hope Church, Hope Square, Weymouth at 12.30pm.