It is hard to believe that it is almost a year since we lost Fred and gathered in our hundreds on a dreich and gloomy morning to listen to the tributes paid to him at his funeral at Warriston Crematorium. Both before and after the service we greeted friends and swapped anecdotes which inevitably led to smiles as we remembered incidents from the life of a man who to me at least seemed to know everyone and have more friends than almost anyone else I had ever met, reflecting his numerous and inter-connected interests and passions.
I had always planned to write about Fred’s life on the anniversary of his death but, having reread the obituaries written about him the time in the national press and the FP News, I came to the conclusion that I had nothing substantive to add other than perhaps a few of my of my own memories of someone whose very presence was always so reassuring to me at different stages of my (to date!) 46 year career in the schools.
When I first received the news from Bertie Bellis, the Principal at the time, that he was going to appoint me to the staff of the recently-merged Daniel Stewart’s and Melville College in August 1974 my instant reaction was how brilliant it was to be joining a rugby school! I can still remember Jim and Finn Calder, Simon Scott, John MacKenzie and the rest of the 1974/75 1st XV playing sublime, winning rugby most Saturday mornings at Inverleith. I was lucky enough to have been invited to share the coaching of the third year B1 team in my first year (Julian Scott, Simon Frame, Campbell Connet, Gus Cummings, Harry Lawrie et al) and we used to all go across to Pitch 1 after our games finished to watch the 1st XV.
I remember very clearly one bright, sunny morning standing on the touchline, still feeling slightly unsure of myself, and being introduced by PE and rugby supremos Eddie Hyndman and Andy Mason to a dapper, well-dressed, brylcreemed gentleman as ‘the new young rugby teacher’. He immediately made me feel completely at ease and we spent the next 20 minutes discussing whether Ireland had a chance of beating Scotland that year (NB Ireland lost 20-13 and Dougie Morgan contributed a drop-goal! C’est la vie).
This was my introduction to Fred McLeod and it did not take me long to find out that he was not just a very approachable, friendly former pupil who loved his rugby but someone who was destined to become an increasingly influential member of seemingly every committee related to Scottish rugby as well as the guiding light of the renowned touring side, the Co-Optimists. Fred loved everything to do with his favourite sport and he often regaled me with stories of nights out at Inverleith, in rugby clubhouses across Scotland, in Dublin, London, Cardiff, Paris and, it seemed to me at the time, anywhere and everywhere rugby was played, including Zimbabwe and Hong Kong on the occasions he organised (Fred loved organising!) Co-Optimist tours to faraway destinations.
I found out early on, but not of course from the modest and self-effacing Fred, that he had been a very talented rugby player and cricketer for both school and the FP Club before a detached retina forced him to retire from rugby. Undaunted and still full of enthusiasm Fred immediately became involved in the administrative side of the sport he loved. All sports need organisers but few sports can boast a Fred McLeod. I am sure others will have their own memories but for me what I will always treasure is the fact that he always seemed to have time not just for me, but for everyone with whom he came into contact. This remained true even when he rose to the highest ranks of international and national rugby as Treasurer of the International Board from 1994-1996, President of the SRU in 1996 and later Acting Chief Executive and Chairman of the SRU in 2005. Although he must have been weighed down by the enormous challenge of trying to move Scottish rugby into the professional age he quite simply remained the same friendly and cheerful Fred who always seemed to have time for all his many friends. Fred never forgot that, for the great majority of Scottish rugby supporters, their local club would always represent for them all that was good about the sport. He of course knew that more than most because he gave even more of his time to the Stewart’s Melville FP club than he did to his national responsibilities.
In retrospect I have no idea where he found the time for much of what he did, especially after he was appointed as our schools’ Bursar, a very demanding and and time-consuming job in itself. Fred simply got on with it, always seemingly fully in control of his time and with a smile for everyone. Fred was a very organised man! My teaching colleagues and I always valued our friendship with him and particularly admired his ability to be able to persuade the Principal of the day that he should support most of our spending plans!
Fred seemed to know everyone and everyone seemed to know Fred. It was never a surprise to learn of yet another little business enterprise in which Fred was involved and nor was it a surprise that, if ever we wanted advice about anything vaguely to do with our responsibilities, Fred would either offer wise advice himself or, if if he could not help, he would always know someone who could. He used to say ‘just tell them Fred suggested I contacted you and said you could help’ and he was always right! After all, as well as all his rugby and cricket commitments, he was also a High Constable of Edinburgh for over 40 years, Treasurer of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, President of Corstorphine Bowling Club and a very keen golfer at Murrayfield, Ratho Park and North Berwick!
If anyone epitomised all that is good about Stewart’s Melville College and of course The Mary Erskine School of which he became equally proud during his time as Bursar, it was Fred Mcleod. Having spent his schooldays as a Daniel Stewart’s boy he had moved into the world of finance and forged a very successful business career but, even as he did that, he never forgot his school and throughout his long and distinguished life devoted far more of his time to it than the schools had any right to expect. Even well after he retired he still loved attending all sorts of events at the schools, from sport to musicals, concerts and plays. Fred continued to cut the same dapper, friendly and charming figure I remembered from all those years ago on the Inverleith touchline and, even when he was struggling with his health and sometimes in pain, he remained optimistic and cheerful – ‘mustn’t grumble’ will stay with me!
The schools are fortunate that Fred gave so much of himself to us for so many years and all of us who knew and loved Fred know that we are fortunate that he touched our lives.