IN Hawick, there are “Hawick Men” and “West End Men” - the latter, of which Billy Hunter, who has died after a short illness was one, are regarded as the Praetorian guard of that great Borders town’s traditions.
It is a role which Hunter took seriously, he was an immensely-proud man, watching the 2013 Hawick Common Riding celebrations, to see his son Stuart in the role of “Acting Father” to Cornet Ritson, for instance.
But, Hunter was himself part of the fabric of Hawick, not least as one of Hughie McLeod’s staunchest disciples as, in the wake of his own experiences with the British Lions in South Africa in 1955 and New Zealand in 1959, McLeod – “The Abbot of Mansfield Park” – set about changing the rugby ethos of the town to produce the legendary “Green Machine” of the 1960s, 1970s and beyond.
Packing down in the boilerhouse, directly behind McLeod, Billy Hunter was indeed the engine-room of the Green Machine. A big: six foot four inches and weighing close to 16 stones, raw-boned man, his physique honed by hard work in the Hawick “Skinyards”, he asked and gave no quarter in the forward battles.
His rugby career had been via the normal Hawick lines – Hawick High School, then the youth club, Hawick PSA, before he moved into the semi-junior ranks with Hawick Linden. He was only 18 when he made his debut in the green jersey of the “toon”, but, such was his promise, it was not long before he was a regular.
He was meant for higher things, but, the young Hunter took a wee while to convince selectors outside the town of his talents. He didn’t make his South debut until 1956, while he was nearly 30 before the final step-up, to the ranks of Scottish internationalists came – when he was chosen to lock the Scotland scrum, alongside the even younger Peter Brown, in the opening match of the 1964 Five Nations, against France, at Murrayfield. A 10-0 win saw 14 of the XV retained for the match against Wilson Whineray’s touring All Blacks, two weeks later (the one change was injury-enforced). In a titanic struggle, Scotland held the tourists to a 0-0 draw, the closest we have ever come to the men from the Land of the Long White Cloud, and Hunter was again retained for the trip to Cardiff.
This resulted in a 3-11 defeat, with Hunter one of the players dropped, for the next game, in Dublin – Mike Campbell-Lammerton returning in his stead. He was out of the side until his recall, to partner the giant Peter Stagg, throughout the 1967 Five Nations, his seventh and final cap coming in the Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham.
He had led Hawick during the 1964-65 season, one which saw another personal milestone, when he was invited to join the Barbarians. He went on to complete two decades at the heart of the Hawick pack, before passing on the torch to a teenaged lock from Linden, one Ian Barnes.
Barnes, himself a Scotland cap and a distinguished coach said: “It was an honour for me to get to lock a Hawick scrum with big Billy. He was a terrific support and encouragement to me as a young Linden player, getting his chance with the Greens. A laid-back character, but, Hawick to the core a true stalwart of the club and the toon”.
By now he had left the skinyards. He was for a time manager of the Hawick abbatoir, before he set-up and ran his own boarding and breeding kennels. In retirement, he played a lot of golf, often with Bill McLaren. He was for many years a single-handicapper at Hawick Golf Club. He also continued to watch his beloved Greens, where be and former scrum-half Harry Whittaker were a familiar “Little and Large” pairing on the touchline. Like another large sportsman, shot-putter Geoff Capes, he had a gentle side which he displayed by showing canaries, winning Scottish titles along the way.
Billy Hunter maintained good health, until his final, short illness. He is survived by wife Helen, sons Alan, Derek and Stuart, three grand-daughters and one grandson and two great-grandchildren.
His funeral service will be held at St George’s and Teviotdale Church, on Monday at 1.30pm.