DAVID Gray, who collapsed and died while on a training run just days after his 56th birthday, was known as "the gentle giant" of Scottish rugby.
At 6ft 8in and just under 18 stones, he came into an ageing Scottish pack in 1978, breaking through just as the international careers of his formidable fellow Ayrshiremen Gordon Brown and Alistair McHarg were tailing off. "Broon frae Troon" and Irvine's "Big Al" were the core of a hard and aggressive Scottish pack dubbed "the Mean Machine" and there were hopes that the younger and bigger Gray could form the nucleus of a "Mean Machine 2".
He had the drive, aggression and ball-handling skills; when he hit a ruck, he hit it hard: sadly for him, he lacked that something extra which made Brown and McHarg special. In another era, he would have perhaps been more highly rated, but his timing was slightly out and in the inevitable comparison with his immediate predecessors he was perhaps a "nearly man".
With his height and distinctive prematurely silver hair, he was always conspicuous, from his days at Kilmarnock Academy through his early club years as the baby of a very good Kilmarnock pack. He left Kilmarnock for West of Scotland, where he blossomed under the wing of the legendary "Broon".
His line-out threat was a given, but he also galloped around the paddock to good effect, and with Brown's premature retirement from the international game, Gray was blooded in the Calcutta Cup match of 1978. This was the first of nine caps, the others being three against Ireland, France and New Zealand in 1979, all four Five Nations matches in 1980 and his final cap against France in 1981.
He had a couple of fairly anonymous matches and Bill Cuthbertson, who had moved from Marr to Kilmarnock as his replacement, also took over in the Scotland side.
Gray continued to play for West, where he captained the club. Until his death he was always a welcome spectator at Burnbrae.
Away from rugby he had his sorrows, his marriage broke up but in his latter years he found new passions – fishing and a love of Scotland's wild places. As a planner with South Ayrshire Council he was heavily involved in mapping and opening up pathways and ensuring wider access to the outdoors, while he continued to challenge himself on the hills.
In May 2008 he completed the arduous 205-mile cross-country trek from Knoydart to the east coast in the Great Outdoors Challenge and it was while on a training run with some of the more mature members of Ayr Seaforth AC at Ayr's Dam Park Stadium, part of his preparations for the 2009 Challenge next month, that he collapsed and died, just as he crossed the finish line.
When his rugby career was starting, Ayrshire was producing a golden generation of rugby forwards: Ian McLauchlan, Quintin Dunlop, Gordon and Peter Brown, Gordon Strachan, David Gray and Cuthbertson all won full caps; Ian Gray, David's elder brother was a B cap, as was Alec Wilson; Jock Craig sat on the bench for the B team, Al McHarg's brother John played for Glasgow, as did former Kilmarnock team-mate Richard Allen and Ayr's John Burston.
It has been suggested that the best bits of David and Ian Gray would have produced a fantastic forward; that's supposition, what is fact is that David Gray deserved his honours and his place among these other international forwards.
He was a happy-go-lucky gentle giant with a neat way with pithy one-liners; always smiling, but also a fine forward and man.
He is survived by the family he doted on: son Donald, a student at Strathclyde University, and a rugby player planning to follow his father into the West of Scotland pack, and daughter Rosemary, a student at Heriot Watt University.