Hundreds gather for funeral of 'voice of rugby'

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of people gathered today for the funeral of veteran rugby commentator Bill McLaren.

McLaren, who was known as the "voice of rugby" and retired in 2002 after almost 50 years as a broadcaster, died in hospital last week, aged 86.

He received an MBE, OBE and CBE for services to the sport and combined his work as a broadcaster with that of a PE teacher until 1987.

The service was held at the Teviot Church in his home town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders.

Only family and friends were allowed into the church but the service was broadcast to the public outside over a PA system.

Mourners began queuing outside before the 650-seat church opened, and then filed in past Mr McLaren's grandchildren who were handing out Hawick balls, his favourite sweets, at the door.

Former Scotland rugby player Colin Deans, Scotland player Chris Paterson and BBC rugby pundit John Beattie were among those attending.

Mr McLaren's wife Bette, daughter Linda Lawson and her husband Alan arrived by car shortly before the service started.

Mr McLaren's coffin was carried into the church to the sound of Highland Cathedral, played by piper Cameron Renwick, the nephew of former Scotland centre Jim Renwick.

As the service led by the Reverend Neil Combe got under way, between 200 and 300 people gathered on the streets outside to listen to the tributes to the broadcaster.

After the congregation sang The Lord's My Shepherd, Gregor Lawson, one of the grandsons, gave a tribute on behalf of the whole family.

He said: "We cannot believe how many people are here. It is so important for us to be united with so many other people who love Bill McLaren as much as we do.

"We're here to lay to rest a great man. A great Hawick man, a great rugby man and a great family man."

Mr Lawson thanked people for the support given to the family in recent days and said they had been "blown away" by the kindness shown to them.

Mr Lawson said it was fitting to say goodbye to the man he described as a "great Scot" on a day renowned for another great Scot - Robert Burns.

He said: "We have been amazed by the response from the media, such touching tributes from the great and the good of the rugby world and far further afield, and just as important, people we've met on Hawick High Street over the past week or so.

"So much has been said by people significantly more important and erudite than me about his unparalleled impartiality, his iconic voice, his professionalism, his gentlemanly nature and his ambassadorship for both rugby and Scotland.

"Whilst we have shed many tears through sadness, a great many have also been shed simply through bursting with pride."

Mr Lawson shared memories of the man he and the other grandchildren knew as "Papa", including his sweet tooth and his fondness for strange foods.

"A lot has been said about Papa's voice and what came out of his mouth. However as a family we always felt that what went into it was even more remarkable.

"Some of his more notable quirks were soup with marshmallows, and red wine with lemonade, often good red wine, to the horror of my uncle Mike."

He spoke of his grandfather's well-known "incredible turn of phrase" and described how his descriptive flair would turn mundane occasions into a "delight for the whole family".

"Hot soup was often described as molten lava, and one of our girlfriends was likened to having a voice like an air raid siren," he said.

He added that he regularly described his grandchildren as being like a "plague of locusts" or a "tourist attraction that people would pay good money to see".

Mr Lawson said his grandfather was "a great many things to a great many people", but added: "For the past 86 years to his family he was even more."

He said: "To my nana, he was a hot water bottle, a Hooverer, a dance partner, her golden boy, the love of her life and soulmate for 62 years."

McLaren was also "a modern dad when dads weren't really very modern".

He went on: "To Dad and Uncle Mike he was a great mate and role model and to his grandchildren he was everything a papa should be.

"He was a great storyteller, he was always great fun."

"Despite the 50 or 60-year age gap, he was a bit of a kid, just like us.

"We spent a lot of our childhood in Hawick and they were some of the best times of our lives."

He added that Mr McLaren's love of rugby and his "sense of fun" stayed with him until the end, and joked about how he "rugby-tackled" a nurse at Hawick Community Hospital.

Referring to Mr McLaren's wife Bette, he added: "Seeing them together last week, it was clear that their love was still as strong and as tender as when they first met 62 years ago."

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