Scotsman Obituaries: Tom Wight, legendary Melrose player and official

Thomas Wight, businessman and rugby player. Born: 8 July 1933 in Newstead, Scottish Borders. Died: 20 May 2021 in Melrose, aged 87

Tom Wight with his beloved wife Pat, who survives him
Tom Wight with his beloved wife Pat, who survives him

As it was for many boys in the post-war era, rugby was a happy distraction for Tom Wight from the remaining hardships. At Melrose the Crichton Cup whetted the appetite of young boys to play on the Greenyards and wear the yellow and black. As amember of the Boys Brigade, Tom sold programmes at the Sports but little did he know what was to follow.

His playing career started in April 1954 in a rearranged Border League fixture against Langholm. The three-all draw gave Melrose the Border League and their first trophy since rugby resumed after the war. He established himself as cornerstone of the scrummage the following season, playing in all 25 games. He played, in total, 125 times for the club with his final game being in February 1961 in the annual Ulster Civil Service fixture. His crowning glory was as a key member of Derek Brown’s 1957/58 team that won the Border League, with Tom playing in 24 of the 30 games.

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He stopped playing to concentrate on business – Tom was proprietor of Ormiston & Renwick florists until 1994, when the business was sold and he retired – but was elected to the General Committee. And there he stayed, fulfilling all the important roles in the club for almost half a century. He was Chair of Selectors for many years and the club’s representative to the Border League. This allowed him to get to know the players at all levels and make friends in other clubs, which was invaluable as changes were introduced.

In 1980 the club decided to create a celebration of the Centenary of Sevens in 1983 and formed a committee to oversee this project. Tom was appointed convenor. They decided to run a 24-team tournament, instead of the traditional 16 teams, and bring in sides from all four of the home unions and, for the first time, from outwith the British Isles, with an invitation being extended to the French Barbarians. The event was very successful.

By now Tom had seen the commercial opportunity of television and Sevens, having been involved with the television production for a decade. His attitude was to give the TV company anything they wanted as TV was vital to securing sponsorship – well almost anything... one producer, more akin to the genteel world of Test Match cricket, told Tom that in the previous broadcast the microphones had picked up some colourful metaphors as cameras circled the players’ huddles. Would he ask players to moderate their language when cameras were around? There was a long pause to let Tom’s blood pressure normalise: “Gary, when the red mist comes down players don’t see cameras.” Gary, poor soul, agreed to use less sensitive microphones.

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But TV brought opportunity and in 1985 there is a photo of Tom in the programme welcoming British Caledonian as title sponsor of Melrose Sevens. Opposite, an ad for the airline encouraged readers to “Fly with Caledonian Girls to 24 countries”. The wording likely wouldn’t be appropriate today but the ad did allow the first overseas team to be flown in when Keith Seabar brought the Cougars from America in 1986.

Tom was club Vice President in 1981 and President from 1983-1985, with Tom Mitchell as Vice President. This pair led the club on its first overseas tour, to Vancouver, in 1984. The pen portrait for Tom stated that he had “ strong democratic views as long as he has the final say”. During this hectic period wife Pat was a wonderful support to Tom and had the honour of presenting the Sevens Cup in 1981 – alas, to Gala.

At this point George Bunyan joined Tom as the Sevens Secretary in 1988 and created a double act that led the hard-working sevens committee for the next 20 years. They shared the same ethos and ideals for the sports in that the rugby was paramount and they wanted the best teams on the field. On top of improving the quality of teams attending, they enhanced the corporate hospitality offering, brought in temporary stands to create the feeling of an amphitheatre, and turned Melrose Sevens into the Blue Riband of international sevens.

They managed to secure Bells as the title sponsor in 1988 and retained that connection until 2000. With this backing the sport became international, with regular foreign teams arriving from all parts of the globe – South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Uruguay and others, with teams shown Border hospitality by host families. Tom and Pat played their part and elebrated with Mark Ella when Randwick won in 1990 and commiserated with the future Springbok captain, Bobby Skinstad, when he did not.

In order to ameliorate hostility from other clubs to Melrose sponsorship, diplomatic duo Tom and George, along with Radio Borders, created a Kings of the Sevens competition which would secure radio coverage for every event and prize money for the competing clubs, with Melrose contributing the most to the pot.

You would think that was enough for any man who was also running a successful business but when the game went professional in 1995 the club created an executive to support the President, with Tom as its chairman. In 1999 he was given the richly deserved honour of life membership of the club. He continued as Convenor of Sevens until 2002 and looked after press and TV for another seven years.

Melrose Rugby Club and Melrose Sevens is recognised fondly around the world and Tom, with others, is responsible for this. The club owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Tom.

He is survived by Pat, to whom he was married for 65 years, and daughters Shirley and Helen, sons-in-law Jim and Steve, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His son Kenny predeceased him.

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