Obituary –Wilbert Neil

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Former Selkirk Rugby Club president Wilbert Neil, hugely respected by all who knew him, died last Thursday at his home in Hopeman, Moray. He was 91.

One of the club’s five life members, Mr Neil was Selkirk president from 1989-1991, moving north with his wife Jean in 2004 to be nearer their daughter Caroline.

Mr Neil was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and in 1934 the family moved back to Scotland in the wake of the Wall Street Crash and subsequent Great Depression. Mr Neil was 11 years of age and his sister Isobel nine. His parents, who hailed from the Hamilton area, settled in Selkirk, from where his father worked as a traveller for the McLeod Russel Tea Company.

After attending Knowepark Primary and Selkirk High School, Mr Neil worked in the burgh surveyor’s office of Selkirk Town Council, receiving his call-up papers midway through his apprenticeship.

After training in Leeds and Ilkley, he received a commission with the Royal Artillery, being attached to the 5th Infantry Division. Prior to D-Day in 1944, his battalion was held back from the main Normandy landings, being kept in reserve at Southend. Mr Neil, who rose to the rank of Captain, later saw action in several locations in Europe – including, France, Holland and Belgium – and was demobbed in 1947.

Mr Neil returned to Selkirk to complete his burgh surveyor’s qualification, and was soon winning plaudits at Philiphaugh where he turned out at centre for Selkirk’s 1st XV, having played for Selkirk Recreation Club prior to the outbreak of war.

When studying for further qualifications in Leven, Fife, Mr Neil played rugby for Dunfermline in the same team as another Selkirk RFC stalwart, George Downie. He later went on to represent the North & Midlands district side.

Mr Neil married Jean Johnston in 1945. The couple had two daughters, Caroline being born in St Andrews in 1950 and Alison in Kelso in 1956. Tragically Alison passed away in 1984 at the age of 29.

In 1951, he moved to the burgh surveyor’s office in Kelso, and during his time in the town became a familiar figure at Poynder Park where he played with distinction for Kelso Rugby Club.

The family’s next move was to Bishopbriggs, where Mr Neil had been appointed burugh surveyor. During this time he served as the president of Glasgow North Rotary Club and was an elder at Cadder Parish Church in Bishopbriggs.

Mr Neil ended his professional career with Strathkelvin District Council, where he was appointed the local authority’s Director of Environmental & Recreational Services. He retired in 1983, and shortly afterwards he and Jean moved back to Selkirk.

It wasn’t long before he had returned to Philiphaugh, serving on the club’s committee before rising to president and later becoming a life member of the club. He was appointed an elder at St Mary’s West Church, meaning he had served a combined total of 37 years as a Church of Scotland elder.

Mr Neil is survived by his wife Jean, daughter Caroline and by five granddaughters and one great-granddaughter.

Mr Neil’s cremation service will be held at Moray Crematorium, Buckie, on Thursday, March 6, at 12.30pm. Donations, if desired, can be sent to Alzheimer Scotland, 22 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh EH3 7RN.

Selkirk Rugby Club president John Rutherford this week described Mr Neil as a great ambassador for the club, saying he had been one of its most hard-working and conscientious office-bearers.

“Wilbert was a true gentleman and someone who always made time for you. Before leaving Selkirk he donated a magnificent ‘Captains & Presidents Board’ to the club, and this will act as a reminder of the sterling service he gave to Selkirk RFC over many years.” J.D.R.S.