Last February my wife and I, after visiting our son and his family
in Dublin, took ourselves off to investigate parts of our native land
with which we were not too familiar. We headed for the southwest
and booked into a hotel in the little town of Kenmare.
As a rule we never have breakfast in a hotel but go instead to
find a wee coffee shop nearby. This we did and were served by
a lovely young lady. “Are you from Scotland?” she asked,
noticing I was wearing a Ryder Cup polo shirt - not that she
thought I was a member of the victorious team.
“No,” I replied, “we’re Irish, but we live in Scotland.”
“We go to Scotland often,” she replied. “We love it. We have a
great a pal in Edinburgh. In fact he broke his back playing rugby
fifty years ago.”
“Good Lord,” I said, “You’re talking about David Mercer!”
Indeed we were! I was able to produce a photo of David on my
phone, for David had asked to speak at one of the monthly
lunches of EROS (the Edinburgh Rugby Oldies Society) a few
weeks hence, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his accident.
Doesn’t that wee story tell us so much about Dave? Firstly, that
he was known and loved and respected in places far beyond
these shores. But secondly that he was keen to share his lifetime
experience with so many of his pals in the rugby world.
And this Dave did on the fifteenth of March last year. To an
audience of well over a hundred folk, he entertained us, he
enthralled, he inspired us, he made us feel very humble. I have
to admit, I remember very little of the detail of what he said, for I
sat in awe and wonder, totally gobsmacked by the fact that I was
hearing not a word of resentment, of self-pity, of regret. There
were no “if-only”s no “what I missed out on”s no “what I would
give to play one more game of rugby.” Everything was positive.
His words were full of gratitude, enthusiasm, and fun. It was as
though he was telling us that his accident had been a plus rather
than a minus.
Indeed I remember at a Broughton Rugby Club dinner many,
many years ago, he proposed the Toast to the Guests and I
replied. He paid me the compliment of saying that the one great
advantage of his accident, for which he was eternally grateful
was that he never had to suffer me as a referee!
Though playing rugby was no longer an option, the greater part
of the life of club rugby, the off-the-field element, became a huge
part of Dave’s commitment. His years of service to Broughton
Rugby Club have been well marked. Nor did the end of his rugby
career mean the end of Dave’s career as a competitive
sportsman. Medals at the 1970 Para-Sport Commonwealth
Games were to follow – Gold in the javelin, Silver in the discus,
Bronze in the shot. (Try sitting in a chair sometime and throwing
a javelin. I don’t think you’ll find it easy!)
Now, though I knew of Dave not long after his accident – one of
my closest friends had played in that game in Hawick all those
years ago - there was much that I did not know about Dave. I
knew nothing about his early life or his life in business.
But help was at hand. On Friday I met with Norrie McLennan and
Charlie Porteus. We entered the Café Royal in bright sunshine
at a quarter past eleven and emerged in the gloom at a quarter
to four. It was one of those glorious sessions that only happens
once in a blue moon. We talked of people, of places, of games,
of parties. We laughed, indeed the odd tear was shed, too.
Before we left, I found myself saying, “Do you know, I had the
strange feeling that it wasn’t just the three of us that were sitting
here today. I sensed that Dave was here as well.” Maybe that’s what resurrection is all about. Or maybe it was just
the Guinness talking!
Thank goodness Norrie brought with him copies of the
Broughton school magazine and some other notes as well, for
much of Friday’s conversations had disappeared from memory
by the time I came to write these sentences. I do however recall
that as a schoolboy Dave was no angel. The word “torag” was
used on more than one occasion. I heard that, even after his
accident, parties in top floor flats proved to be no obstacle to
Dave; his pal Peter Smith was there to provide the necessary
One article in the school magazine recorded Dave’s academic
progress on returning to school, progress which led to entrance
to Heriot-Watt University and later to a degree in computer
Now computer science is to me like the Peace of God, for it
passeth all understanding. And when Mike Norman talked to me
about what David had achieved in his business career I was
again lost in wonder, love and praise. Terms like “coloured book
protocols”, “emergent internet protocols” and “performance
testing tools” left me utterly bamboozled. But I learnt enough to
realize that whilst working in university or in Scapa, Dave was a
shrewd, imaginative and energetic operator, with great
technological and commercial expertise. You don’t get awarded
an MBE for “Services to computer software technology” unless
you are at the top of your tree!
And what a great social life was being enjoyed whilst all of this
was going on. Not only was he the Laird of Kenmare in Ireland,
but he was also the self-appointed Laird of Espéraza in Southern
And when Dan Mulhall, now the Irish Ambassador in the United
States, was Irish Consul, Dave became an honorary member of
the Irish community here. In fact, he is credited with being the
founder of the Irish Curry Club.
Behind all of this were medical issues, about which the vast
majority of us I’m sure were unaware.
Until I talked to Marie last Wednesday I didn’t know that Dave
had contracted Nectrolizing Faciitis or of the reconstructive
surgery required. I didn’t know of the months of hospitalization
and home care that ensued. I hadn’t heard about the accident
last year in Cadiz which injured Dave’s wrists and curtailed his
movement. Yes, I had read the medical notes that Marie had
circulated before Christmas, but could I begin to comprehend the
catalogue of suffering, disappointment and fatigue that Dave had
experienced over the years? I could not.
How could a man carry this burden and remain cheerful? How
could he bear the pain and not turn his face to the wall? Why did
he refuse to throw in the towel?
Was he born with an indomitable spirit that did not know defeat?
Was he simply as hard as nails, as tough as old boots,
impervious to any hardship that might come his way? Was he
the sublime optimist who always believed that life would get
better? Probably all of these things.
But there is something else, greater than all that we have
Dave made many clever and inspired decisions in his business
life, but there is one brilliant decision that he made, which
outstripped all others by a country mile – he married an Irish wife.
You have heard today not just the story of a brave and lovely
man; you have been listening to one of the greatest love stories
Earlier, I read to you these words. You have heard them often.
They were read at Dave and Marie’s wedding.
“Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or rude;
love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep
a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with
the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope and patience
That is the love that Dave and Marie had for each other; the love
that we have seen daily in action. How privileged we have been
to witness these two lives.
We thank God today that He gave life to David. We thank Him
for what David did with that life.
And we thank Him that He enabled David’s life to touch upon our
Updated 12:44 - 6 Feb 2018 by johnny wells
lives, making us thereby infinitely richer.