Obituary: Fred McLeod, accomplished sportsman who went on to become President of the SRU

Fred McLeod, rugby player and administrator. Born: 2 May, 1939 in Edinburgh Died: 25 December, 2019 aged 80

Former SRU President Fred McLeod has died at the age of 80. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Former SRU President Fred McLeod has died at the age of 80. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Fred McLeod who has died aged 80 was a wonderful servant to the game of rugby nearly his whole life, initially as a player and thereafter as one of Scotland’s best known and most highly regarded officials. Rugby was in his DNA and a lifelong passion from first lacing up his boots as a tyro full back at Edinburgh’s Daniel Stewart’s College whose 1st XV he represented with distinction before being a pillar of the FP side for many seasons. His talents off the pitch led to many important and responsible positions including Treasurer of the International Rugby Board from 1994-6, President of the Scottish Rugby Union in 1996 and the dual positions of interim Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Union in 2005.

As these posts coincided with difficult periods for the sport with the introduction of universal professionalism and internal strife in the domestic game, it is to his considerable credit that he was able to navigate through these issues by applying his wide range of skills to emerge with reputation not only intact but enhanced. Although a consummate professional, Fred was no dry apparatchik but someone who enjoyed the traditional sociable aspects of rugby and was a highly popular figure not only at his beloved Inverleith but in clubhouses throughout the land. He was also a very talented cricketer representing Stewart’s FPs, Stewart’s Melville FPs and East of Scotland as wicket keeper and batsman.

Frederick Charles Hubert McLeod was born in Edinburgh to parents Eric and Elsie, his father being employed with Prudential Insurance. He and younger sister Fiona were brought up in the Trinity area where initially Fred attended Wardie Primary School before Daniel Stewart’s from 1948 to ’56. He excelled at sport, winning colours in rugby – one report stating “at full back he was outstanding in fielding and kicking”– cricket and tennis while several Highers enabled him to train as a Chartered Accountant with Johnston Smillie.

After school he enjoyed a distinguished career for 13 seasons as full back for the FPs where he was a consistently reliable performer noted for prowess under the high ball and as a useful goal kicker. A detached retina sustained while playing which subsequently required three operations brought his career to an end in 1970 and pointed him towards the game’s administrative side.

Surprisingly his injury did not signal the end of his cricket career which continued till about 1980 during which time he captained both Stewart’s FPs and Stewart’s Melville FPs, regularly featuring both as an ‘ace stumper’ behind the wicket and at the top of the batting averages and made several appearances for the East of Scotland team.

In 1981 he was elected to the General Committee of the SRU as one of two Edinburgh District representatives, the start of his long involvement with the Union. He served on various committees over the years and was particularly proud to be associated with Scotland’s Grand Slam successes in 1984 and ’90. In 1991 he was appointed the Union’s Finance Convenor and as a Scottish member of the International Rugby Board, becoming its Treasurer in 1994, the same year as he managed Scotland’s tour of Argentina. As member of the Board he participated in the historic 1995 Paris meeting which gave the green light to professionalism, effecting a sea change in the sport.

This was reflected in his spell as SRU President in 1996 when he had to deal with controversy over whether clubs or districts should represent Scotland in Europe as well as the fallout from England initially negotiating its own Five Nations TV deal.

In 2005 Scottish rugby was in a state of near civil war when both the SRU Chairman and Chief Executive resigned over governance issues. Given his experience and integrity, the Union turned to Fred and appointed him as both interim Chair and Chief Executive, demanding roles he performed for seven months. In an interview with the Scotsman, he commented,” There has been a complete breakdown of communication between the General Committee and the Executive Board. I’m a people person and am restoring confidence.”

He succeeded in his aim of steadying the ship and after new Chair and Chief Executive were appointed, he continued as non-executive Director for another year, earning widespread respect and appreciation for his contribution.

In 1963 he married Sandra Darroch at St Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh, the couple having met some years previously at a student dance. They lived mostly in Corstorphine and enjoyed a happy and fulfilling marriage for over 50 years till Sandra’s death in 2014. They had three children, Angela, Graham and Caroline.

After qualifying as a CA, Fred joined DB Marshall Ltd, with whom he remained for 24 years, as financial accountant then Company Secretary and finally, Finance Director. In 1990 he was appointed the first Bursar of Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools till retiring in 2001.

A man of boundless energy who thrived on being busy, Fred somehow found time apart from family, business and SRU commitments to be involved in a range of activities.

He was an Edinburgh High Constable for over 40 years, Treasurer of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce in the early 1980s, a member of the Rotary Club of Corstorphine and President of Corstorphine Bowling Club which he also represented competitively. Golf was another interest he enjoyed at various courses including Murrayfield, North Berwick and Ratho Park. He was also President of both Stewart’s Melville Rugby and Cricket Clubs, and Secretary /President of Co-Optimists invitational rugby club whom he took twice to the Hong Kong 7s and on tour to Zimbabwe.

A multi-talented convivial gent, generous with his time and an accomplished rugby and sporting ambassador, he is survived by his sister, children and grandchildren Laura, Sophie, Chloe, Danny, Roxane, Hayley and Lewis.