Obituary: David Alexander Hogg, farmer and rugby player

David Hogg
David Hogg
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Born: 20 November, 1933, in Selkirk. Died: 25 January, 2013, at Grange Hall, Earlston, aged 79

BORDERS’ rugby and farming has an abundance of life’s great characters, but both communities are the worse for the loss of Dave Hogg.

The Birkenside farmer was not a voluble, ostentatious sort, but a packed Melrose Parish Church last month revealed the breadth and depth of his popularity. It was his humour that struck me on meeting him on an early visit to the Greenyards, his second home. His hand was held out, welcoming; a question about where you came from followed and invariably a quip about Borders rivalries and whether I was indeed lost.

But there was disarming warmth, a manner that drew you into the man, that made one feel a friend within minutes of meeting. Always that warmth, no matter the quip, right from the start.

He was born in Selkirk in 1933, the first to Sandy and Anne Hogg, and after starting life at Meigle Farm in the village of Clovenfords, just west of Galashiels, he moved with the family to Birkenside near Earlston in 1939.

Dave attended St Mary’s School in Melrose and completed his education at Sedbergh School in the north of England. His mother died when he was just 13, but he would recall a happy childhood at Birkenside with siblings Catherine, Mary and John, and surrounded by relatives, before heading off on National Service with the Royal Engineers, based in Malvern. On his Certificate of Service, the “final assessment of conduct and character” stated: “A man of excellent learning and character. A very likeable personality, gets on well with all ranks and is recommended as an outstanding man in loyalty to his job.”

There were rows and rows of nodding heads when his son Carl shared this comment with the congregation last month.

He would return to Birkenside, but his sisters “Katie” and Mary sought pastures new, the former setting up a farming enterprise in Canada with husband Carl Clayton while the latter flew the world as an air hostess with British Airways and settled in Atlanta.

John, his brother, headed west too, and joined the US Marines and Dave was hugely proud to learn that he was decorated for service in the Vietnam War. Sadly, John was not to live for much longer after that experience.

Dave had grown to love Borders’ life and rugby, was a good, hard-grafting forward for Melrose and loved nothing better than to share the camaraderie of his peers, be it around the rugby club, at local marts or on the farm.

His son Carl said at his funeral: “Dad always had time for everyone. He loved telling stories, normally over a beer or two, and the amount of people you’d bump into and be recognised as ‘Oh, you’re one of Dave Hogg’s boys from Birkenside’, normally backed up by ‘your old man’s one heck of a character’. In all my time I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him.”

In an area as rich in sporting rivalry as the Borders that says something about the man, but it was a similar story across Northumberland and to Edinburgh and beyond, where he would become a well-kent face in farming circles.

He met Sheila Telfer, while she was playing hockey for Melrose at the Gibson Park, and they were married in the summer of 1963. In a decade playing for Melrose’s 1st XV, he made 207 appearances and was never dropped. He was vice-captain for two seasons and in 1966-67 captained the team which won the unofficial Scottish Championship. After hanging up his boots, Dave served for 26 years on the club committee, including two years as vice-president and two as president, and served as president of the Border League.

Known as the perfect club president, he was a great ambassador for the club throughout Scotland and the north of England, and became a stalwart of the Edinburgh Borderers Rugby Club.

He and Sheila went on to have four children, Bruce, born in 1965, Keith in 1967, Carl in 1969 and Julie in 1971, and the family became the central pillar in Dave’s life around which his rugby and farming revolved.

Dave and Sheila were viewed as a team – who was the boss is up for debate –but there was a strong mutual love and respect clear for family and friends to see throughout their married life.

They would buy the Birkenside farm and build the business, Dave developing a shrewd eye for sheep and cattle while Sheila did the books, renovated and turned Birkenside into the beautiful home it is now. The children mucked in and made their father proud with the way they shared his enthusiasm for farm life.

But for Dave there had to be time for play and a pint and as well as the many rugby stories, he was famed for some scrapes in the farming world.

One tale had him gate-crashing the Aberdeen Angus Society Dinner in Perth, not alone, but with a 1,000kg Simmental bull which he led up in the lift and out onto the dance-floor in the Station Hotel. That one made the national press, and turned out to be an astute marketing move.

He and Sheila would join up with family friends, the Crawfords, and spend many holidays in Denmark, but an entire edition of The Scotsman would not be able to recount every one of those stories.

However, there were hard times too. Having lost his mother as a teenager and his brother too early, Dave and Sheila suffered the heartache of losing their son Keith in January, 1989 to a brain haemorrhage. As a typical Border farmer Dave relied on friendship but never showed the hurt he must have felt and continued with life in much the same away as before, no doubt with Keith’s memory a constant support.

He came through it all without losing the humour and warmth that made him such a popular fellow, and continued to shine a light on whatever company he joined.

A hard-working farmer, determined rugby player and an entertaining companion, but always with that gleam in the eye and a warm handshake. One of life’s gentlemen, Dave Hogg is greatly missed.