Obituary: Willie Robertson, all-round sportsman who represented Scotland twice at Commonwealth Games

Willie Robertson, all-round sportsman, has died at the age of 71
Willie Robertson, all-round sportsman, has died at the age of 71
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Willie Robertson, Scottish sportsman. Born: 28 October, 1947. Died: 14 June, 2019, aged 71

Willie Robertson who has died aged 71, was an accomplished all-round Scottish sportsman. Despite competing in an era that saw the development of specialism, he achieved distinction nationally in several sports.

The high point of his career was representing his country twice at wrestling in the Commonwealth Games.

In addition to that, he also gained a Scottish international vest in athletics, was a triple British heavyweight wrestling champion as well as multiple Scottish champion, won a Scottish judo title, was a top Highland Games heavyweight athlete over several years and a noted prop forward for Corstorphine and Highland rugby clubs.

He won a silver and two bronze medals in the hammer throw at the Scottish championships and figured in the annual ranking lists for that event as well as shot putt and discus between 1969 and 2008, his final appearance coming at the age of 61.

Once retired from competition, he became a highly valued throws coach with Falkirk Victoria Harriers where he encouraged and developed many young throwers and indeed was coaching there the evening before his sudden death. Several of his hammer protégés in particular went on to enjoy considerable success, including Kyle Randalls, Myra Perkins and Ciaran Wright. He also officiated regularly at athletics meetings and was a familiar sight as a judge at Highland Games.

His initial interest as a member of Edinburgh Athletic Club was as an aspiring sprinter but although decent at club level it was apparent he would not progress much further. With his powerful physique it was inevitable he would gravitate to strength-based events and he began hammer throwing with the Field Events Club at Edinburgh University sports ground at Craiglockhart under the eagle eye of well known coach Bob Watson, the former groundsman there.

He supplemented this with weight training at the city’s Dunedin Weightlifting Club in a basic former wartime decontamination building in the Meadows. Soon he became a formidable exponent of the event, representing Edinburgh AC in Scottish and British League fixtures while claiming bronze medals in 1971 and ’73 and silver in ’74 at the Scottish championships, when he also represented Scotland in an international in Oslo against Norway and Bulgaria.

By then he had been competing regularly at “heavy” events at amateur Highland Games and while at the Strathallan Games decided to enter the Scottish Cumberland-style wrestling championship despite never having previously wrestled, although he had dabbled in boxing at the Sparta club. Six bouts later he was champion, much to everyone’s surprise including himself, and a wrestling career was launched.

Having been told to join Edinburgh’s Milton Wrestling Club he did so at the club’s premises in Abbeyhill where he was coached in free-style wrestling by George Farquhar, a former Olympic competitor and Commonwealth Games silver medallist.

Over the next few years he won three British heavyweight titles as well as a Scottish judo title and was selected for the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand. One of his opponents was All Blacks’ prop forward Gary Knight, with whom Willie had a good rapport, and when several years later Knight played in Edinburgh for the All Blacks they enjoyed a reunion.

In 1985, after an absence from the sport, he won the Scottish title aged 38 and was selected for the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games of 1986, a fitting end to his wrestling career. Throughout much of his time wrestling, he combined it with rugby as a noted prop forward for Corstorphine for many seasons and one with Highland.

In 1975 he turned professional to concentrate on Highland Games, the two codes then being divided, and in 1976 placed third in the Scottish Heavyweight Championship at Crieff. Over six years he competed successfully throughout Scotland, often travelling by motorbike and sleeping rough, before reinstatement as an amateur in 1980.

William Robertson was born in Sanquhar to William and Elizabeth, fifth of six children, Elizabeth, Robert, James, Margaret and Ina the others.

The family lived in various places before moving in about 1956 to Humbie Farm, Kirkliston, where Mr Robertson became the grieve. Educated at Kirkliston and Winchburgh schools, he was then better known by his nickname “Gundy”. Willie later attended the Edinburgh School of Building where he won a medal for merit before completing a stonemasonry apprenticeship.

He later joined Historic Scotland working at Linlithgow Palace and Fort George among other places, after which he moved into Building Control, becoming a building inspector with Edinburgh Council. After several years he became a lecturer in building at Telford College, having attended teacher training college.

A highly regarded craftsman, he designed and supervised the building of the stonework for “The Briggers” memorial at South Queensferry, commemorating those who died in the construction of the Forth Bridge, unveiled by First Minister Alex Salmond. He also designed and collaborated in the building of the Millenial Cairn in Torphichen.

On 15 May, 1982 in Edinburgh he married Angela Reid, a nurse originally from Auchterarder, with the couple enjoying 37 happy years together living in Torphichen in a house built mostly by Willie. They had two children, Alan and Hazel. They met in Lorient, Brittany in 1980 where he was competing in the Inter Celtic Festival Games while she was there for the music festival.

Latterly the couple enjoyed going on cruises, especially to Scandinavia and once to St Petersburg. Willie was also a much appreciated volunteer with the Fife Beekeepers’ Association, for whom he built a “bee bole”, a traditional stone built recess into which the “skep” accommodating the bees is placed, affording protection from inclement weather. It is thought to be one of the last built in Scotland.

Willie was a standout character, a gentle giant with a great sense of fun and mischief who was held in huge affection by all who knew him, as was evident at the large turnout and warmth of feeling for him at his funeral, where I was honoured to give the eulogy. He is survived by his wife, children, brothers and sisters.