Rugby international and businessman;
Born: 25 February, 1928; Died: 29 August, 2013.
BOB MacEwen, who has died aged 85, was a distinguished Scottish rugby internationalist, an innovator as a coach and a man who had a stellar and multi-faceted business career.
He was an Anglo-Scot. He was born in Oxford, but his Scottish grandfather gave him his Scottish qualification. As a child, the MacEwen family moved to Bristol, where he was raised and schooled, at Clifton Preparatory School, Clifton College, then Bristol Grammar School where the great cricketer Tom Graveney was a class-mate and future university match and international opponent JD Currie was a contemporary. The school rugby coach was legendary Welsh scrum-half Haydn Tanner.
Leaving school, he joined Clifton Rugby Club, did his national service in the Royal Air Force, before going to Loughborough University, where he began a life-long friendship with future England and British Lions centre Jeff Butterfield.
After graduating from Loughborough, with whom he had captained the University XV and Combined Universities, MacEwen went to Cambridge, to St Catherine's College, where he read economics and mathematics. He was a double Blue, playing in the drawn University match against Oxford in 1953 and being part of a star-studded Cambridge team, including fellow Scotland caps Arthur Smith and Tom McClung - who would be MacEwen's best man at his marriage and godfather to his son Ian - which won 3-0 the following year. He also became the first current Cambridge undergraduate to play against the university, when Mickey Steele-Bodger selected him for his XV to face Cambridge in 1952.
MacEwen went into his second varsity match as an internationalist, having won the first of his 13 Scotland caps in the 3-0 loss to France, at Murrayfield, on 9 January, 1954. This was the 12th of Scotland's run of 17 straight defeats. His second cap pitted him against the touring All Blacks and he went to his grave convinced the New Zealanders had conned referee Ivor David to win the penalty kick which the great Bob Scott kicked to win the game. He insisted the All Blacks pack had drawn back, causing Scotland scrum half Laurie MacLachlan to appear to put the ball in squint.
He won four caps that season, but missed the England game through injury and was not even accorded a trial match the following year, when Scotland finally, at the 18th attempt, won an international. MacEwen's forthright manner helped cause his banishment from the national side, he had publicly disagreed with SRU president, the great Lord JM Bannerman, who insisted Scotland pack 3-2-3, while MacEwen felt 3-4-1 was the formation to choose, and said so.
Leaving Cambridge, he played half a season with Northampton, but it was made clear from Murrayfield, if he wanted further Scotland caps, he should join London Scottish. He did, and was re-called to be an ever-present for the country through the 1956 and 1957 Five Nations campaigns.
His period in the wilderness soured MacEwen towards Murrayfield somewhat. He fancied his chances of being back-up hooker to Welsh legend Bryn Meredith in the 1955 Lions tour to South Africa, but never had a chance to push his case.
Meantime, after a short spell at the chalk-face convinced him, he would never be a teacher, he embarked on a business career, joining a firm of management consultants. With them he was sent to Ireland, where he joined Lansdowne, was one of Tony O'Reilly's referees in his application to join the Irish Dairy Board - the start of the legendary Irishman's stellar business career- and met his wife Shelag. After playing for the Irish Wolfhounds on a Sunday he was rebuked by the powers-that-be at Murrayfield, for not observing the Sabbath.
Playing for Lansdowne, plus the arrival of Norman Bruce, put the kybosh on MacEwen's international career. He won his 13th and final cap, against Wales, in Cardiff, on 1 February, 1958. During his top-flight career he also represented the Barbarians and Major Stanley's XV against Oxford University. With the Ba'Ba's, he was the hooker who had to tell Cliff Morgan, who also died last week, he was trying to put the ball into the wrong side of the scrum, when the great Welsh fly half had to become a temporary scrum-half in one game.
McEwen also toured Japan with Cambridge University - where his flame red hair caused a huge stir, and North America with a combined Oxford-Cambridge party.
Returning to England in the early 1960s, he joined Charles Clore's embryonic Sears Holdings conglomerate, rising to become a director. He worked in shoe manufacturing and for the Chester Barrie suiting arm of the business, becoming something of an expert in turning around failing businesses - a skill he put to good use in the 1970s,when he persuaded his in-laws to turn their struggling flax farm near Coleraine into a motor hotel and functions venue, which gained a lot of publicity from being the setting for Andy Irvine's wedding.
He also kept in touch with rugby, where he turned his business brain to improving British rugby, co-authoring, with Butterfield and Ray Williams, Guide to Coaches and Guide to Players, the RFU's first coaching manuals. Butterfield became an influential voice within Twickenham, Williams became the WRU's first coaching organiser, laying the foundations of the great Welsh sides of the 1970s. MacEwen believed the courtesy copy of the manual, which he sent to Murrayfield, was binned. Coaching smelled of "professionalism" to the SRU in the early 1960s.
He was ahead of his time in his coaching approach, advocating such revolutionary tactics as "the snap shove" and was sounded out for his ideas by Lions coaches Carwyn James in 1971 and Syd Millar in 1974.
His beloved Shelagh, mother to his children Ian, Jane, Kate, Alistair R and Arthur Robbie, who died aged only three, was ill for some years prior to her death from cancer in 1985. Significantly, in giving two of his sons the initials AR, Bob MacEwen was paying tribute to his Cambridge and Scotland contemporary Arthur Smith.
He too suffered illness in later life, but he bore his troubles lightly. Living with Ian in Kent, he became great friends with another Scotland cap, Bill Young. He enjoyed annual trips to Scotland, where he loved Barra and always tried to look in on his international team mate Hughie McLeod in Hawick.
His business life also brought its honours and kudos. He was highly regarded within the footwear and textile industry. Stephanie Dick, the Director of Operations at The Textile Institute said: "Bob's death certainly marks a milestone in our history. His contributions to our development were vital and important over many years. I have worked closely with Bob in several capacities over all those years. His passion for finding a pathway to success will not be easily duplicated. I will miss his counsel".
He was a fellow, former council chairman and treasurer of the Clothing and Footwear Institute and as such played a pivotal role in their merger with the Textile Institute.
He was honoured with the fellowship of the merged body, won their Holden Medal in 1985, the Institute Medal in 1998 and was awarded honorary life membership in 2011. Honorary treasurer between 1994 and 1998, he was still an elected council member on his death.
Bob MacEwen is survived by Ian, Alistair, Jane, Kate and his grandchildren.
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