Born: 23 December, 1932, in Melrose. Died: 12 July, 2013, in Melrose, aged 80
Melrose stalwart and former Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) president Derek Brown has died following an 18-month battle against worsening arthritis and cancer. If continuity – fathers following sons into the town XVs – is one of the perennial strengths of Borders rugby, then few families have exemplified this like the Browns of Melrose. Derek followed his father into the Melrose XV and was, in turn, followed into the XV by his son Robbie.
Derek later joined the committee, as has Robbie, who is still involved at Melrose, assisting Jim Telfer coach the Melrose Wasps youth team.
With Robbie’s son Thomas playing for Melrose’s Under-15 side, the succession seems secure: Thomas is the sixth generation of Brown to wear the club’s colours.
Born in Melrose, educated at Melrose Grammar School, before going on to Galashiels Academy, Derek was already showing promise as a forward and was just 16 when he made his first-team debut for the club, before quickly establishing himself.
In all he was a Melrose regular for more than a decade, mostly as a number eight; indeed, when the young Jim Telfer joined the club, he was initially played at second row, with Brown preferred at eight. But genius could not be long held off and Brown, who was renowned for his line-out expertise, spent his final seasons in the boiler-house, with Telfer at number eight.
He finally retired in 1965. With his father dying, Derek, who was newly married, had to take over the family joinery and undertaking business, the fourth generation to run it, so retirement made sense.
He had had a good club career, gaining selection for the South, at a time when he was going head-to-head with Scottish international legends such as Hawick’s Adam Robson and Kelso’s British Lion George Smith. He also appeared in Scottish Trials and was invited to play for the Barbarians, a rare honour for an uncapped player. He had several outings as a non-playing travelling reserve for the national XV but the ultimate honour of a cap escaped him.
Like his late father, in retirement Derek joined the Melrose committee, a commitment which saw him spend more than a decade as secretary and rise to the heights of the presidency; he was still on the committee, as property convener, until a few weeks before his death.
In 1984 he was elected to the SRU’s general committee, where his eight-year tenure as grounds convener saw him heavily involved in the multi-million-pound redevelopment of Murrayfield. He was SRU president in 1998-9, his presidency capped by the unlikely Scottish success in the final Five Nations Championship in 1999.
Just about the longest period he spent away from Melrose was his National Service, between 1954 and 1956. This took him all the way to Glencorse Barracks, where he and future Scotland manager Ally MacLeod were room-mates as corporals in the Royal Scots.
Just as a home posting kept MacLeod available for football with Third Lanark, it enabled Brown to continue to turn out for Melrose. He was always proud of his relationship with the regiment and wore the regimental tie with pride.
Away from rugby and the family business, Derek was a keen golfer, until his worsening arthritis forced him to put away the clubs. His last 18 months were painful ones but he bore his pain stoically and, although he and his family knew the end was not far away, he insisted on rising from bed, dressing and watching the third Test between the Lions and Australia, just a week before he died – gazing out of his bedroom window to the Eildon Hills – surely as good a way as any for a Melrose man to pass on.
Derek is survived by Janet, his wife of 48 years, daughters Marnie and Jen, son Robbie and six grandchildren, Marnie’s daughters: Sheridan and Cora-Mae, Robbie’s son Thomas and daughter Lauren and Jen’s sons Andy and Richie, who live in Australia.