Obituary: Tom Robertson, PE teacher/rugby coach

PE teacher and rugby coach brought enthusiasm and good humour to the task. Picture: Contributed
PE teacher and rugby coach brought enthusiasm and good humour to the task. Picture: Contributed
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Born: Dennistoun, 20 December 1939. Died: 3 January 2016.

Tom Robertson was a highly accomplished principal PE teacher at Eastwood High School in Glasgow and an institution in schools rugby in Glasgow and throughout Scotland. He was also well known in cricket circles,having been a member of Poloc Cricket Club for many years and a past captain.

A hugely influential figure in the lives of many,Tom brought his own mixture of encouragement,enthusiasm, discipline and good humour to the task of making PE fulfilling for the less gifted as well as the more gifted and was an enormously inspiring coach, particularly in rugby but also across a wide spectrum of sports including cricket, athletics,volleyball and hockey. The many heartwarming social media tributes paid to him derived from a wide cross section of people and are testament to the enduring and beneficial effect he had on many.

Scottish rugby international Shade Munro was taught by him at Eastwood and remembers him fondly,”Tom had a great influence on me. He was a very inspiring figure,a real rugby man with an impressive presence,which at first could seem almost intimidating. But underneath the exterior was a great sense of humour and a strong commitment to his pupils. Once I began playing for Glasgow Schools, he used to drive me to different venues and was a great mentor. It was through him I got started in rugby as he persuaded me to give up my flute lessons on Saturday mornings to play rugby instead and I like to think music’s loss was rugby’s gain! He was also a highly talented drama teacher and I remember he organised a few end of year shows that were very successful.”

In 1996 Tom led a Scottish Schools rugby tour of South Africa during his tenure as President of the Schools’ Rugby Union.

This was one of the first schools’ tours of South Africa post apartheid and was a very forward looking venture. The Scots played seven games including fixtures at such iconic grounds as Newlands and Loftus Versfeld, with five of the boys going on to become full internationals-Jason White,Chris Paterson,Simon Taylor,Marcus di Rollo and Gordon Ross,White and Paterson later captaining Scotland.

Colin Thomson,currently head of Schools and Youth at Scottish Rugby,was the SRU representative on the trip and recalled,”Tom as manager set the standards for a very successful tour. He was a real leader,a gentleman and larger than life character. With his sense of humour, he was very popular with our hosts and built great rapport among our party. His post match dinner speeches were masterful and a joy to listen to. The benefits of the tour were huge,not only because of the crop of internationalists it spawned but also the many professional careers it inspired.”Chris Paterson added,”On that tour strong management was essential and Tom was the perfect figurehead leading us. Many of us were inspired to go on to greater things and the memories of it will stick with me for a long time to come.”

Tom was born in Dennistoun,first attending Thomson Street primary school before going on to Whitehill Secondary where he was deputy head boy and played for the 1st XV at rugby and the 1st XI at cricket.

He was also a gifted singer and as a member of the renowned Kirkintilloch junior choir performed throughout the U.K as well as in Denmark and Canada. After school he attended Jordanhill PE College, representing the college at rugby,cricket and hockey. Once finished college, he continued playing rugby till injury forced his retirement from the game at age 25 although he continued to play cricket for Poloc till into his 50s. It was there he met his future wife Avril whom he married in 1968 leading to 47 happy years together.

His first teaching appointment was at Bishopbriggs High School from 1962-65 after which he joined the new Eastwood High School,becoming principal PE teacher in 1970 till early retirement in 1990. Then he became the first youth development officer in Scotland,attached to Clarkston rugby club[now GHA] with responsibility for developing rugby in local primary schools.

At the same time he also ran Eastwood District schools’ rugby,an amalgamated team of local secondary schools. Between 1995 and 1997,he was President of the Scottish Schools Rugby Union,having previously been secretary and president of the Glasgow body.

Ian Tomney,also a PE teacher and successor of Tom’s both in Glasgow and Scottish Schools’ rugby commented,”Tom was a real eastender, very proud of his roots. A first class gent,he was very encouraging and a great help to me. He brought forward the idea of composite schools’ teams in the Scottish Schools’ Cup to provide more competitive games. On a personal level,he was great company and a master of the instant quip.”

Tom was much in demand as an after dinner speaker and at Burns’ suppers. Unfortunately a stroke suffered in 2005 curtailed these activities but he continued to enjoy trips to Arran and time with his grandchildren. He is survived by wife Avril,son Kenneth, daughter Lynsey and two grandchildren.