Obituary: Tom Inglis, motor trade executive

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Thomas Johnston Inglis, motor trade executive and rugby administrator. Born: 16 July, 1940 in Ayr. Died: 18 November, 2016 in Helensburgh aged 76

Tom Inglis, who has died suddenly, aged 76, was one of life’s great rays of sunshine. Permanently smiling, he was a hugely-popular figure in Scottish rugby and in the Scottish motor trade.

An Honest Man of Ayr, Tom came from a clever family. His mother and father, WH Inglis, who was Director of Education for Ayrshire, were both teachers. Two of Tom’s three brothers would follow the family path to the chalk-face, but not Tom. He did well at Ayr Academy, where he played for the rugby XV, the cricket XI and boxed but on leaving school he went into industry, as a management trainee with GKN, at the Scottish Stamping and Engineering Company’s works in Ayr.

But after two years in “the Stamp Works” he left and found his career calling when he joined Dalblair Motors, the local Ford dealer, as a trainee car salesman. His rise through the ranks at Dalblair was rapid – he was Sales Manager while still in his twenties, and Managing Director in his early thirties and it was here that he first met Liz, his wife of 48 years.

Before his 40th birthday, Ford offered him the chance to run his own show, when he set-up Strathford Motors. The original Strathford garage, on the A82 outside Dumbarton, was quickly followed by a second garage, in East Kilbride, then a third back in Ayrshire, in Kilmarnock, before he, to his great joy, opened a Jaguar franchise, Inglis of Ayr, back in his home town.

Tom didn’t just look after his own successful business, he was elected Chairman of the Scottish Ford Dealers Association, later becoming the first Scot to chair the UK Ford Dealers Council, a post which saw him representing over 400 Ford dealers nationwide in their dealings with the manufacturers.

If his business career was successful, so too was his life in rugby. He had joined Ayr Rugby Club on leaving Ayr Academy – back then, Ayr might just as easily have been called “Ayr Academicals”. They didn’t have their own ground, but, Millbrae was acquired, and Inglis was one of those who played in the opening games at the new ground.

He was never a first-team regular at Ayr, but he was a legend there on two counts – firstly as long-serving Sevens Convener – a job he accepted on the basis of: “OK, I’ll do it until we win it.” He little realised it would take Ayr 22-years to do this, but, in that time, Inglis and his small team made the Ayr Sevens one of the best tournaments outwith the 
Borders.

His second claim to legendary status around Millbrae was as one of the stalwarts of the club’s A2XV – in reality the fourth team. Michael Green’s bestseller: The Art of Coarse Rugby was the A2s’ bible. The core of this collection of has-beens, never-would-bes and future stars were a bunch of enthusiasts such as Inglis, who could have played as high up the club as Ayr firsts but, for various reasons – one or two had taken over family firms in Ayr at a young age, others had professional calls, some were newly-married – couldn’t put in the time playing for the first team required. So, they turned-up on a Saturday, had a run-around, sank a few beers and had a laugh.

But, along the way, they helped one or two future Ayr stars make the transition from schools to adult rugby – and, they won more games than they lost.

In time, Tom became Ayr president, climaxing his four-year spell by overseeing the glamour game in which a “British Lions Select”, organised by Gordon Brown and himself and including such legends as Broon himself, Willie John McBride, Ian McLauchlan, Ian McGeechan and Phil Bennett strutted their stuff against an augmented Ayr XV to open the extended Millbrae stand.

He also served on the Glasgow District committee, and had a spell on the full SRU Board, as well as arranging a lucrative sponsorship deal between the SRU and Ford.

After his period as Ayr president, Tom, who had moved house to Helensburgh, devoted the same energy to Helensburgh RFC, becoming in time president of Helensburgh Rugby and Cricket club and putting his considerable talents and energy into improving the club’s ground and underwriting its successful youth section.

He was also Captain, then president of Helensburgh Golf Club, playing there, and at Loch Lomond, but his favourite course was the quaint 12-hold layout at Shiskine, on Arran, an island he loved to visit with Liz, their four children and nine grandchildren.

Tom was a larger-than-life character. He seemed to be permanently smiling. He was a gifted after-dinner-speaker who knew his Burns and delivered a formidable Address to the Haggis and a funny Toast to the Lassies.

He was successful in business, and he gave back a lot – through the Dumbarton District Enterprise Trust and through his commitment to youth rugby. He made and kept friends easily.

The stories of Tom are many and varied. At Ayr Academy, in the Sixth Year, he drew the short straw – when he had to fight future Scotland rugby captain Ian “Mighty Mouse” McLauchlan in the boxing tournament. Inglis was no coward, but, he decided, the first time “Wee Beastie” – as McLauchlan was known – hit him, he was going down and not getting up until the count of ten.

Then there was the A2s game, at Rozelle in Ayr, where, puffed-out after running in a long-distance try, he went off to recover, sitting under one of the oaks in Rozelle Park, only for an opposition winger to break clear. The winger thought he had outstripped the pursuers, when Tom noticed, emerging from behind the tree to fell him with a try-saving tackle.

On another occasion, he sustained a broken leg in a game, went to hospital, had the leg put in plaster then, after some medicinal beers at the club, he went home, and began to climb the stairs, on his backside – only to remember, half-way up, the elderly couple from whom he and Liz had bought the house had had a lift installed.

He was on the A2s legendary Macrihanish trip: “The first rule of the Macrihanish trip is, nobody talks about the Macrihanish trip.” Then there was his leadership of “the five o’clock club”, a motley collection of Ayr RFC members, who would meet in a local hotel, at 5pm on a Friday, to unwind until the Rugby Club opened at 7pm.

The hotel’s owners suddenly put 5p on the price of a pint, but, Tom and the boys let this unexpected rise pass without comment, for a month, then, Tom tackled the hotel owner.

“Well Tom, I felt the hotel was attracting some riff-raff, so we put the prices up to get rid of them”, was the explanation given. “OK, but, it hasn’t worked, we are still drinking here”, was Tom’s unsuccessful attempt at having the price lowered.

His popularity was evident from the huge attendance at his funeral. He will be sorely missed and not just by Liz and their children: David, Shona, Victoria and Andrew and grand-children: Corrie, Findlay, Madeleine, Ruaridh, Joy, Erin, Kyle, Elsa and Innes, His was a life well-lived.

MATTHEW VALLANCE