Hawick townsfolk were greatly saddened and shocked to hear of the death, at the age of 81, of Hugh McLeod – prominent businessman and one of the most outstanding rugby players of his generation.
After attending Trinity and Hawick High schools, Hugh trained as a plasterer before being called up for national service.
He left the trade to work for a short spell for Lyle and Scott before setting in partnership with the late Ronald Scurfield to start what was to prove a very successful plastering business. He also set up a sports shop in the High Street after his retiral from rugby.
Hugh Ferns McLeod was arguably the greatest rugby player that Hawick has ever produced – and given the rich history of the sport in the town, this is no small accolade. Hugh only took up the game at the age of 16, but by 17 he was a member of the all-conquering Greens team and two years later he was playing for the South against the touring Springboks in 1951. Two years later he made his Scotland debut against France. In 1955 he toured with the British Lions in South Africa and in 1959 he was on his second Lions tour in New Zealand, appearing in all six Tests.
Hugh was one of the most outstanding technicians in front-row rugby, an immense scrummager with an ability to play on either side with equal comfort. He was a great scholar of the game and, as a result, he used his Lions tours to understand what other countries did differently and to communicate the lessons learned back home. It was this that led to Hawick’s dominance in the 50s and 60s.
Hugh was a fitness fanatic. A life-long teetotaller, his commitment to training and physical fitness was legendary, and it was this and his love of physical contact in rugby that made him such a fearsome opponent. Such was his reputation for his spartan life that his Lions colleagues gave him the nickname “The Abbot”.
He had already won 40 caps before retiring at the age of 30 in 1962 – and this at a time when very few international were played outside the Five Nations. Moreover, he proved to be, unusually for a prop, a more-than-useful sevens player and won several medals, including a Melrose medal in 1953 in a side which included such great Hawick stalwarts as Adams Robson, Wattie Scott, Jack Hegarty, Jackie Wright, Norman Davidson and Robin Charters. He also featured in many championship-winning Hawick teams, including the 1959-60 side which many pundits consider to be the finest ever to grace Mansfield Park.
Such were the extent of his achievements that he received an OBE for his services to the game. He also has a street in the town named after him and was president of Hawick RFC from 1983-85 before being accorded life membership.
Aside from rugby, Hugh was a man of great conviction with strong views on many issues from which he was not easily dissuaded. Conversely, on topics where he did not feel comfortable, he was perfectly happy to listen carefully to the views of others.
He was generous to those who needed help, selfless in his willingness to support others when sickness or other problems overtook them. In his later years he became a kenspeckle figure as he cycled around the town, stopping to enter into earnest conversation with his many friends. Usually the topic was rugby as his love for the game never diminished. Hawick rugby and the town in general are greatly the poorer for his passing.
He is survived by his son, Roddy, his much-loved wife, Myra, having died in 2006.
– Gerald Adams