Bill Nicholson, who served in 1968-69 as president of the Scottish Rugby Union, was one of those who was prepared to make a considerable contribution to society without looking for recognition.

Sport played a big part in his life but he was also successful in business. He was managing director of Lyle Shipping and despite suffering a heart attack in 1964 he pressed on with a strategy for modernising the company.

Bill went to school in Jura, Warriston, and Loretto - where his sporting prowess showed itself at an early age: he played for Loretto at rugby, hockey, fives, and cricket - with four years in the 1st XI. On leaving school, he continued playing his rugby and cricket with West of Scotland (which was then one club based at Hamilton Crescent). He also enjoyed playing squash and sailing and racing on the Clyde.

Although rugby was to be the sport into which he put most of his energy, it was cricket at which he excelled: he played 11 times for Scotland and scored his first century in his first international, against Ireland in Dublin in 1929, when he was only 20. John Kerr, the team captain, said of his innings: ''It is the first century I have seen made against Ireland and the best innings of any young boy in these games. And Bill's fielding was one of the features of the match.'' He played rugby for Glasgow and played in a final trial, but he never made it into the Scottish team.

Bill's father worked for Butterfield & Swire in Hong Kong and it may have been this connection which steered him into joining the Lyle Shipping Co Ltd as an office junior. He was one of those now rare characters who only ever worked for one company in their career. During the Second World War he served with the RNVR but was recalled to manage a section of the UK merchant fleet in support of the war effort. He was a member of the Home Guard and he was appointed to revive and commission the Sea Cadet Corps in Glasgow.

In 1939 he married Dorothy (Dodo) Service and throughout their long and happy married life she was a wonderful counter-balance to his somewhat serious manner: she always looked for the fun wherever they were - she brightened up many a gathering, whether it was one of business or pleasure.

After the war, there were difficulties between the rugby and cricket factions at West of Scotland, and Bill stayed loyal to the rugby section: Hamilton Crescent would no longer see rugby played there. This was the start of a very long, often despairing search for a new home for West rugby which nearly failed: that would surely have been disastrous for Scottish rugby. West amalgamated for a time with Kelvinside, and shared training facilities variously with Glasgow and Hillhead High Schools, Glasgow University, and St Aloysius. Bill was a major driving force in the search which eventually found Burnbrae, and, with his lifelong friend Stewart Gillies, persuaded Hugh Fraser to sponsor a new clubhouse which really put this great club back on the road to revival.

In 1958 he was elected president of West, a position he held with pride, honour, and vision for the following 18 years; 18 years which were arguably the most successful in the club's long history. Internationalists selected for their country during this time included Peter Brown, Sandy Carmichael, Quinton Dunlop, Dave Shedden, Ronnie Hannah, Gordon Brown, Alister McHarg, Chris Rea, and Lionel Weston, and West were outright Scottish champions in 1970/71.

The pinnacle of his rugby life came in 1968/69 when he was president of the Scottish Rugby Union. Of all of the many appointments which he accepted, this was the one which gave him the most pleasure, but one which he modestly described as being an honour to West as much as himself.

His career with Lyles began in 1927 and he retired in 1977: a span of 50 years. He was appointed deputy managing director in 1952, and he succeeded Mr James Shearer as managing director in 1958.

Under his direction the fleet of bulk carriers (all named after capes from around the world) was built up and the development culminated in the formation of Scottish Ship Management - a joint venture with the Hogarth Shipping Company - giving the new company more than 25 ships to manage, and most of them state-of-the-art, geared, dry bulk carriers.

He served on a number of national and local industrial committees: the UK Chamber of Shipping; Lloyds Register; British Shipping Federation; Northern Lighthouse Board; Glasgow & Clyde Shipowners Association; Clyde Steamship Insurance Association, and the Glasgow Shipowners & Shipbrokers Benevolent Association. The demise of SSM, Lyles, and Hogarths within 10 years of his retiral came as a very sad blow to him - he understood the problems to have been a combination of world-wide recession and poor management, but he was not a man to dwell on misfortune and he held no grudges.

Bill blossomed in his retirement and moved from the serious, even stern, businessman into a very much milder and more tolerant person: he mellowed. His family now came first and he loved to watch them all expand and grow. The home he built for his retirement would sometimes burst at the seams, and he and Dodo extended the warmest of welcomes to all who crossed their threshold. He didn't sit around doing nothing - he was a naturally active man.

Bill carried on the Nicholson family love of the island of Jura. His father inaugurated the annual regatta there in 1926 and Bill ran it single-handed from 1951 until 1963 and it still thrives today, albeit with a committee now conducting affairs.

Dodo died in 1996 and he showed his strength of character by looking ahead instead of back - one of his favourite sayings was: ''You can't stop the clock!'' He is survived by his two sons and two daughters, 12 grandchildren, and one great grandson.

Bill Nicholson, businessman and former president of the Scottish Rugby Union; born May 7, 1909, died April 10, 2001.