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Hilary Thompson – An Appreciation

Hilary Thompson – An Appreciation

By Colin Frame
7 March 2021
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A tribute to a one of a kind person lost to the Berwick Rugby Family earlier this week.


Get off my bar!
Hilary Thompson

Hundreds of people will have heavy hearts after the sad news last week that our friend Hilary lost her three year battle against cancer. But we will not be alone with those feelings as Hilary had touched the lives of thousands over the course of her life. Our heavy hearts will be nothing in comparison to her family and really close friends and our deepest condolences, thoughts and best wishes go out to them.

My first encounter with Hilary, like all my memories of Berwick, start in 1990 when I moved to the area. Of course since then I have heard the various stories of life for Hilary and her beloved husband Johna before 1990. How they met through the game of rugby for instance. Johna played for Berwick but enjoyed the friendship and camaraderie much more. Before my time Berwick supporters and team would make their way every two years to Cardiff for the Wales versus Scotland game. During one of those trips Hilary and Johna met and before you could say “Wales are better than England at rugby” Hilary had up sticks and moved to Berwick to be with Johna. On the face of it they were different people but they worked together like salt and pepper or Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett. They must have shared so many times of laughter because when I first met them back in 1990 they were a joy to be around and I never left their company feeling worse about life.

So back to 1990 when I first walked through the door of Berwick Rugby Club. The Club then was vastly different to the Club we have now. Back then just about everyone was a volunteer, the Clubhouse was an L shaped wooden building with a snooker table, the players served behind the bar on training nights, food was provided by various wives & mothers and buses were the preserve of the First Team only. Hilary by this point was already a central cog in the Club and a huge personality.

When she came to Berwick to be with Johna she threw herself into the Club to help out and to meet new people. She had supported fund raising efforts and helped Johna with his efforts in getting money into the Club. She was paid part time to manage the bar at weekends in 1990 and did so with great success. My abiding memory of her from that time was that she was so Welsh! She was passionate, energetic, loved her family and rugby with a passion and her language was memorable. She took people as she found them and there will be many a lad who will remember hearing “listen Boyo I don’t care who you are, you haven’t washed your hands properly so go and wash them then I’ll serve you” or “get off my bar” when someone had stood on the step. To this day I can never hear the word “raffle” and not think of Hilary bellowing the word out across a crowded clubhouse to get attention for the draw about to be made. Frequently in those days she would have sold the raffle tickets too, moving around the room, having a natter but never leaving without extracting a sale. She also didn’t miss many people either – a true expert in her discipline.

Later when I married she made sure my wife was made welcome into the Berwick Rugby Family, always making sure she had a chat and told a joke or two. Not all of Hilary’s jokes were suitable for family listening but rarely did she not raise a laugh. This natural personality saw the Club win the Border Referee’s Society of most Hospitable Club on a regular basis over those years. Then when we had children Hilary would frequently sneak them a sweet or two over the bar, just as she had done for countless others over the years. Her Sunday “scramble” with the Mini Section saw an extra coaching session being introduced in the Clubhouse with the darkest arts of the breakdown being honed as children of all shapes and sizes fought over the sweets! All the while Hilary would be laughing and smiling to see the joy that her impromptu training session had brought.

Hilary was also a founder member of the Berwick Ladies Team – “The Diamonds”. She couldn’t help herself but to get involved and had a ball. Although I am not so sure that she stayed top of the referee’s hit parade as she received a few red cards from them during her playing stint. She brought to that team the same qualities that she brought to all her life. Humour, fun, grit, determination and also loyalty.

Later still when I spent a time as Treasurer of the Club I got to know the other side of Hilary and Johna and what a fantastic team they were together. At the end of functions or, more often before they began, you saw the quieter side of Hilary. When she wasn’t having to control a room full of male rugby players full of testosterone, beer and bravado she was able to show her more thoughtful and caring side. I count myself lucky to have seen that side to her because it made me admire her all the more. She had troubles like everyone in life but she had met them and overcome them. You always knew where you stood with Hilary – if there was something she felt wasn’t right she would say so.

The highlight for Hilary during her time in Berwick was when members of her family made the trip up to Berwick from Wales. She was at her happiest with her family around her and it showed. So it came as no surprise when it was announced that Hilary and Johna were moving to Wales so that Hilary could spend more time with the family she had left behind when she moved north to be with Johna. It would be seven years ago since they left a hole in Berwick Rugby Club that has never truly been replaced. It was therefore only right that Johna was one of the first inductees into the Berwick Rugby Club Hall of Fame. Johna happily acknowledges that for him it was a joint award because they were a team and he wouldn’t have been able to achieve what he had without Hilary. By this time Hilary had started her fight with cancer. She did so with all the same qualities that she had shown throughout her life – with guts, head on never giving an inch and with a bravery that many of us could never match. She also continued her colourful language and humour through her illness! For all of us that loved her we saw Hilary in every post she made on Facebook. It is typical of Hilary that she lasted long enough to see Wales beat England in the 6 Nations one more time and to also see one more St David’s Day – a true woman of Wales to the very end.

If it hadn’t been for Covid 19 restrictions I would be making the trip to Wales for her funeral. Along the journey I would be sure to have met other Berwickers making the trip too to say farewell to our friend. We would have swapped our favourite stories and memories of Hilary and her impact on us all. I might have also taken the stuffed badger that the Third Team named Hilary in her honour. I could have shared the story of how another sadly departed club stalwart, John Young, placed the badger called Hilary on ground level with its head poking round the corner of the bar so that it could be found by Hilary when she opened up. And it had the desired result as the stuffed animal Hilary nearly caused the human Hilary to have a heart attack!

There would be other stories of pranks, japes and laughs; enough to write a best-selling book no doubt. The book would be funny and sad but also of love – the love of life and family.

Instead of being in Wales we will all be thinking of Johna and family who mourn her loss but hope they know we all share their loss. Berwick Rugby Club is a better place for having Hilary Thompson being a part of its history. For those of us who count Hilary as a friend we are better people for having shared our lives with Hilary too. I will miss you Hilary but will always think of you when someone shouts “raffle”.

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