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Alan Ruthven obituary: ‘My dad’s rugby legacy lives on through Peterhead women’s team too’

Alan Ruthven.
Alan Ruthven.

He went to school with artist David Hockney and toured the world with the army, but Alan Ruthven was never happier than when he was on the rugby field.

In the wake of his death, his daughter Ann reflects on the life of her “super dad” who founded and played for Peterhead Rugby Club into his 60s, and launched the town’s first women’s team.

In good company

William Alan Ruthven was born on January 1 1938 in Bradford.

Son of wool merchant William and his wife Clara, he was only ever called Alan by his parents and older sisters Kathleen and Edna.

He attended school with world-famous Yorkshire artist David Hockney but tragically by his teenage years he was an orphan.

Shown in Warminster, Alan pictured far right with his wife Shirley, centre.

Older sister Kathy rushed her own wedding so she could be given permission to take him in. And they later relocated to the Guisborough area of North Yorkshire.

On leaving school he worked on the Gisborough Hall estate until National Service came calling. His initial 24 months turned to 22 years within the prestigious Green Howards regiment.

“My dad always said he felt relieved as he was becoming quite the teddy boy and the army saved him from becoming a rogue,” said Ann.

Over the years, Alan served in Hong Kong, Libya, Germany, Canada and in what was then called British Honduras.

Sportsman

While in the army his passion for sport grew. His medals tally increased as he played hockey and cricket, did sailing and canoeing, and started playing rugby.

While still in the army he met Pfizer lab assistant Shirley Meller from Kent.

She accompanied her friend to a rugby match in Dover where the husband of her friend was playing – one of the only matches she’s ever gone to. When watching, she was introduced to Alan.

Alan Ruthven, front row, second from left, with the Peterhead Men’s Rugby team he founded.

They got married in October 1967 in Ramsgate, Kent.

A move to Somerset followed where Alan’s final army years were spent as an instructor in Warminster School of Infantry. Daughter Ann arrived in 1977 and Alan took a job at Young’s Seafood in Somerset when he left the military in 1979.

Big changes

When the seafood factory closed, Alan was offered redundancy or relocation. Young’s had a factory in Boddam near Peterhead, so they moved there where Alan worked as a quality-control manager.

Much to Alan’s consternation there was nowhere to play rugby.

When he settled and met like-minded people he founded Peterhead Rugby Club.

Their first game as a club was in April 1983 against RAF Buchan, who only just beat them.

Family man and rugby stalwart, Alan Ruthven.

Ann said: “He really wasn’t supposed to be playing as he was 45 – just supposed to help get together the team. He stepped in one week and was still playing for the next 20 years!”

Alan helped coach the main team and the Colts (Under-18s). He also played for Aberdeen Strollers Over-35s.

“He was more like 55 and they made it to the world cup in Dublin.”

Barman and bees

Alan’s other passion was his garden and keeping bees. He won awards for his honey and wine and kept this hobby up for as long as he could.

He was a familiar face behind the bar of Buchanhaven Hearts Football Club at the weekends and when he retired in 2003, boredom saw him take on a job as hospital porter in Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Maud hospitals.

In later life, Alan and Shirley moved to St Monans in Fife where Alan helped establish a resident’s association in their sheltered housing complex, Abercrombie Court, and was a regular at the Mayview Hotel next door.

Alan Ruthven – popular man in Peterhead and later Anstruther in Fife.

They then moved into Anstruther but Shirley needed more specialist dementia care so the couple had to live separately.

Alan caught Covid in the first week of the first lockdown and while the family were told to prepare for the worst, he bounced back.

At 83, however, he had a pacemaker fitted after a small heart attack. A decision was made to move him closer to family in Banff.

Sadly just days after returning to the north-east he passed away suddenly but peacefully.

His final words were that he was dusting off his rugby boots for Peterhead Rugby Club’s 40th anniversary.

Legacy lives on

As well as Peterhead Rugby Club, Ann believes one of his greatest legacies will be the club’s women’s team.

“My dad started that in the early 90s, and although it didn’t get fully off the ground then it inspired me.

Greatest legacy is that Alan, left, started the town’s first women’s rugby side.

“Thanks to my dad, rugby has been my life too, and because of that, friends and I restarted the women’s side, which I coached myself for a number of years.

“He was so well known, so well thought of. We’re still coming to terms with it but his legacy most certainly lives on.”

Alan is survived by Ann and her partner, his sister Edna, grandson Rowan and step-granddaughter Emily.

You can read the family’s announcement here.

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