Husband, father, grandfather, rugby trailblazer, mentor, loyal friend. Born Aug. 24, 1929, in Bangor, Wales. Died Oct. 22, 2011, in Victoria of lung cancer, aged 82.
David Roberts used to say that he came from a line of teachers and preachers. His mother, Olwen Reese, was a teacher and the first woman to graduate in Wales with a masters degree in science. His father, Rev. Frederick Roberts, was a high-profile Baptist preacher.
The youngest of three children, David followed in his parents’ footsteps, first in the classroom as a teacher, then as a rugby coach. His passion for the game often included sermons that taught players life lessons lasting long after they’d hung up their cleats.
After his father’s death, nine-year-old David was sent to an all-boys British boarding school where he learned English and discovered his love for rugby. He spent time in the Royal Air Force and teachers college before finding himself at Carlton-Le-Willows Grammar School teaching geography, religion and phys ed. It was during this time in Nottingham that the 38-year-old bachelor met his partner for life, Joan Townsend, a Yorkshire lass. They married in 1967 and welcomed one girl, Glain, and three boys, Gareth, Elwyn and Gwynfor, into their lives.
In 1966, David used his persuasive powers and Welsh charm to become the first official rugby coach appointed by an English club when he joined Nottingham RFC. He was credited with revolutionizing the club and took them to the top of the league.
In 1977, the Canadian Rugby Union came calling and David, always up for an adventure, moved his family to Ottawa. He built a foundation for the Canadian national rugby team and coached the local Ottawa Irish to many a winning season.
A man big on formality, David was never without a suit and tie, never owned a pair of jeans and made sure – when on a rugby tour of Japan – that all his players wore clean socks. After retiring from the CRU in 1985, he took a course in real estate. He moved the family back to Nottingham in 1987 and found a new career as a partner in a real-estate firm, while continuing to play an active role in local rugby as president and later secretary of the Nottingham club.
In 2005, David retired at 76 and he and Joan moved to Victoria. There, David found a new passion for lawn bowling. Great friendships were made, tournaments won and lost and many a barstool warmed after a match. It was common for him to show up at the bowling club with a bag of vegetables from his beloved garden.
When an aggressive form of lung cancer was discovered in April, 2011, he faced it with his trademark optimism and good spirits. He saw the four- to 12-week sentence as an opportunity to say goodbye and to help wrap things up for Joan. A lifelong mentor to many of his rugby “boys,” David was loyal to his family and friends. You always knew he was in your corner rooting for you to win.
By Glain Roberts-McCabe, David’s daughter.