Rugby player and stalwart of Langholm and South of Scotland

Born: November 11, 1945;

Died: November 12, 2018

NEIL Stevenson, who has died aged 73, was a popular figure in Langholm, the Borders and throughout Scotland and beyond, well known for his sporting and business achievements as well as his community and charitable activities.

A talented rugby player, he was a member of the successful Langholm team from the mid 1960s onwards and represented the South of Scotland several times, including their memorable draw against the touring South African team in 1970.

Later he became an enthusiastic golfer playing to a single figure handicap and through his time and generosity helped transform Langholm Golf Club, erecting a new clubhouse and restructuring the course. He was captain and president of the golf club and honorary president of the rugby club.

For some 30 years he was managing director of Langholm Dyeworks and Finishing Company which he developed successfully and with brother David ran the Edinburgh Woollen Mill business, another highly successful enterprise. His public appointments included being chairman of Dumfries and Galloway Enterprise Board and membership of the board of the Scottish Sports Council. He supported numerous community and charitable activities, particularly Macmillan Cancer Support for whom he was an extremely effective fund raiser. In 2015 he was Volunteer of the Year leading to an invitation to Buckingham Palace and also received awards for services to sport and charity locally.

Diagnosed in 2012 with myeloma, a form of blood cancer, he was determined to lead as full a life as possible and never complained. With a friend’s daughter, Katherine Latimer, he wrote a book about his experience, My Trip of a Lifetime, Myeloma and Me, raising further funds for Macmillan. No misery memoir, the book offers candid insight into dealing with cancer, emphasising the importance of positivity while retaining a sense of humour.

In a speech in 2015, he summarised his attitude. "I’m perfectly at peace with where I am," he said. "Let’s get on with living. I have no respect for the illness or its prognosis.”

Born James Neil Stevenson in Carlisle, he was the middle son of Drew and Madge nee Bell. Brought up in Langholm where his father had set up the dyeworks in 1947, he initially attended Langholm Academy with brothers David and Alan, becoming sports champion after winning the sprints, shot putt and long jump.

Thereafter, at Dumfries Academy, he broke records and won medals at Scottish Schools and Scottish Junior Championships, including in pole vault thanks to coaching from David, an Olympic Games vaulter in 1964 in Tokyo.

He excelled on the rugby field as a mobile prop forward for his schools, then Langholm Colts before graduating to the senior team. He studied colour chemistry at Bradford University, spending summers visiting dyestuff companies in Germany and Switzerland.

Continuing to play rugby, he represented the university, Yorkshire Colts and Bradford where the team captain was Geoff Cooke, later manager of England and the British Lions.

After graduating he returned to Langholm where he took charge of the dyeworks, substantially increasing its turnover to make it the biggest and best package dyer of woollen yarns in the UK. With David he expanded Edinburgh Woollen Mill from a small operation to a multi-million-pound business before retiring in 1995.

On the rugby pitch he became a strong scrummaging prop who, unusually for the time, could also run fast and handle well, making him a key member of a powerful Langholm team. Selection for South of Scotland followed and he was once reserve for a national trial.

In January 1970 he was tighthead prop in the South team that held the mighty Springboks to a draw at Netherdale, part of a front row with Scottish internationals Suddon and Laidlaw, in a team fielding another 8. His immediate opponent, ’Tiny’ Neethling had 30 caps. He also helped South clinch the inter district title that month as Langholm finished second in the Border League.

Thanks to his speed and handling ability, he was also a noted exponent of ‘sevens’. In 1973 he retired from rugby, turning to golf which became his passion. Langholm Golf Club survived and prospered in large part thanks to him while he also enjoyed memberships at Carlisle, Gleneagles, Loch Lomond and Archerfield.

He was an enthusiastic pro-am and charity golfer, playing alongside Sandy Lyle and Bob Charles among others. As a lifelong Manchester United fan, one of his highlights was playing Royal Birkdale with Bobby Charlton.

In 1984 he married Margaret Bell whom he knew in Langholm. They enjoyed a happy and fulfilling marriage and had a daughter Sarah. For him family came first and he greatly appreciated their support during his illness.

In 2001 he undertook a sponsored slim for Macmillan, raising £75,000 in the process and thereafter, asked to chair the committee to raise £1million to complete the oncology unit at Dumfries Infirmary - he duly succeeded.

He relished the challenge of projects and in retirement undertook many successfully thanks to his ability to get things done. A gregarious individual with a talent for mimicry, straight talking and an occasionally outrageous sense of humour, he was the life and soul of a party. Renowned for generosity of spirit, he was a tried and trusted friend to many who will be much missed.

He is survived by his wife, daughter and brothers.