Rugby played a huge part in the life of Iain Leslie, who in turn played a huge part in the life of his beloved club, Watsonians, rendering exceptional service to it in a variety of roles over several decades. He was in effect “Mr Watsonian”, a totally committed enthusiast who initially played for the club with distinction as a redoubtable prop forward and after hanging up his boots went from pitch to committee room to dedicate himself to advancing the interests of the Myreside outfit. The epitome of the ideal club man, there was virtually no area that did not benefit from his input.
A constantly encouraging and welcoming presence, he helped with coaching and team management, refereed lower XV games, ran the clubhouse bar for years and served as Vice President and President. At the time of his death Iain was still club Secretary and a familiar face on match day at Myreside as the announcer, a role that occasionally allowed him to indulge his sense of humour with tongue-in-cheek partisan commentary. He thoroughly enjoyed mixing with other clubs’ officials over hospitality at home and away matches while talking rugby.
A solicitor by profession, Iain also served on the Discipline Panels of Scottish Rugby and the United Rugby Championship/Guinness Pro Leagues.
Affectionately known to many by his nickname of “Stav” or “Stavvy” – accorded him at George Watson’s through his resemblance to Stavros from hit US detective drama Kojak – Iain was a very popular and gregarious character, well known throughout Scottish rugby. On the first match day after his death, all clubs in Watsonians’ National League held a minute’s applause in tribute before their matches, testament to the respect and regard in which he was held.
He was also a keen cricketer, playing about 200 matches for Watsonians, mostly in the lower XIs but including 39 for the 1sts.
Iain Alexander Leslie was the youngest child of Robert and Grace, brother of Susan and Kenneth, and brought up in Leith. Robert was a warehouseman at the Docks and Iain initially attended Leith Links primary school where he was noted to be a bright pupil, leading to his securing a bursary to attend George Watson’s College for secondary education.
This signalled the start of his passion for rugby as he soon showed potential at prop forward and played for the 1st XV under the captaincy of Gavin Hastings, a team that only lost one game all season.
His good form earned selection for Edinburgh Schools in an all-Watson’s front row with David Boyle and Niall Small.
His talents extended beyond the rugby pitch as he was also academically and musically gifted. He learned by ear to play piano and violin to a high standard, playing the latter for Edinburgh Schools’ Orchestra, an unusual representative double for a prop! Iain excelled at languages, including Russian, and won prizes for public speaking, composition, general knowledge and service to the school.
In 1980 he went to Aberdeen University to study law, resulting in restricted appearances at Myreside for a period. He played rugby for the University and Scottish Students, being particularly proud of beating a Scotland under-21 side featuring his former captain Gavin Hastings. Given his big personality, organisational ability and enthusiasm, it was no surprise he was elected President of the Sports Union, while in another sphere of student competition he convincingly broke the Union beer drinking record on one occasion.
After graduating in law in 1984, Iain returned to Edinburgh to resume playing at Myreside, going on to clock up some 250 games, with almost 50 for the 1st XV. His bulk proved particularly effective at tight head and his form was recognised with selection for the Co Optimists, with whom he enjoyed several tours. He also toured with Watsonians.
After retiring as a player, among many duties undertaken, he coached and managed the 2nd XV, deriving particular pleasure from assisting the early careers of future internationalists including Jamie Mayer, Derrick Lee and Duncan Hodge. At the same time he pursued his professional career, qualifying as a solicitor and joining the firm of Sturrock and Armstrong, where he specialised in civil court work and conveyancing, acquiring a good reputation.
Appointed Vice President of Watsonians for 2000-2002, he succeeded to the Presidency until 2004, proud that his period in office coincided with the club gaining promotion to the top tier and winning the Scottish Cup. About then Iain also set up in practice on his own account as Leslie and Co., S.S.C., with an office in Edinburgh’s Morningside, where he ran a wide-ranging practice for foreign and domestic clients.
After returning from a foreign holiday he became ill, leaving him with serious health issues for the rest of his life but which – thanks to his determined and positive outlook – placed few restrictions on his activities, even when in a wheelchair.
Iain loved to travel and on one occasion combined a Lions’ tour of South Africa with a visit to his brother, who was then living there, and on other occasions visited his niece Susan in Germany. Family was important to him and he enjoyed a close relationship with his siblings, niece and nephew Kenneth, who survive him.
He was very appreciative of the support received from everyone latterly, especially fellow club members, among whom he remained highly popular.
As good friend and teammate David Boyle said, “Stav was the kind of guy who comes around maybe once in a generation. Everyone knew him, everyone liked him and everyone will miss him. His shoes will not only be difficult to fill but impossible.”
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