George Jones – A Rugby Man – Tribute By Jim Hume
It had been a long game played in its final quarter against insurmountable odds and with the referee in charge making some hard to understand calls.
But all his life George Jones had played in odds-against contests as a rugby player on fields home and foreign, and as a lawyer in the highest courts in his homeland Canada and abroad. His reputation on the playing field and in the courtroom was the same: you never quit seeking a way to win; never concede until the final whistle has blown or a high court has pronounced a verdict.
And that’s the way it was for George until Monday, May 25, 2020, when the final whistle blew 86-years after it started with his birth in Victoria on September 22, 1933. His father was Vice-Admiral George Jones, chief of the Royal Canadian Navy during WW2. His mother was Helen Fordham Johnson, daughter of B.C’s Lieut.-Governor (1931-38),John William Fordham Johnson.
George junior went “gently” into what Welsh poet Dylan Thomas described as “that good night” – but not until his greatest game and trial were declared over by the unchallengeable time-keeper.
He had fought for many months, losing a little ground each month and year as time moved by, but never his courage in fighting the odds. What he displayed in those final months was what he had always displayed in law and at play: integrity, perseverance, and the ability to call up the George Jones grin in adversity.
Andrew Hume, former President of the old Velox Rugby Club and scrum-half and team Captain, remembers George and his philosophy as coach. Andy was playing for the Third Div squad when George listed him for a Second Div game. “One sparkling moment in the game,” he recalls “came when a gap opened just a few yards out from the goal line. An easy try….but I spotted my winger alongside and slid a pass to him – a pass he obviously wasn’t expecting. It was a knock-on and we lost the ball. After the game George put his arm around my shoulder and quietly said: “There’s a time to give and a time to go. Remember that and you’ll be a better player.”
It’s a lesson he taught generations of players and young lawyers. One remembered still by once young, now elderly, teammates who still stand a little taller when remembering George’s “totally disarming chuckle – even after games had gone badly.” He knew when it was finally time to go for touch and the final play of the life-long game.
The chuckle along with the famous George Jones’ combined cheeky grin and smile were lifelong trademarks, shared freely and as often as his good works – which were many.
George had a long experience with James Bay and players from both Velox and JBA never hesitated to tap him for legal advice on everything from speeding tickets to disorderly conduct following game winning celebrations.
He was generous with his time. Always.
There was a time when the Second Division Velox RFC – having lost half a team of key players to First Division players– fell on hard times with a season of disastrous losses. Time,some surviving members felt, to disband and join a time tested club.
Coach Jones thought otherwise. He thought what the team needed was a morale booster shot and that an international tour would be just the thing. Within a year infused with never ending Jones’ enthusiasm, the team was ready to travel to the Caribbean for a series of games organized by George in Jamaica,Martinique, Barbados and other exotic tropical points– but there was a problem. One or two of the players couldn’t raise the cash to make the trip.
“Tell them not to worry,” George told the captain. And the full team made the trip and one player still tells part of the story. “His tour message to us on rules and behaviour were simple: “Drink after the games, not before — and let’s have fun playing wide open rugby. And we did. The team came back stronger than it had ever been and although we still were not winning many games there wasn’t any doubt which club in town was having the most fun. George’s spirit and his zest for life held the club together through its darkest time. It stands strong today because new strengths have been built on pretty solid George Jones’ foundations.”
And one of the strongest blocks in that foundation is the George Jones creation of a Female 15 playing wide open rugby. It was treated – or greeted – with smiles when it began, regarded as a feminist fad doomed to flash and fade.
George taught his students well and his players soaked up the lessons. They wanted to learn; they wanted to play better. They studied and their practices were dedicated affairs. Other teams sprang up around the province and in recent years around the world.
From full 15 rugby sprang Seven-a-side aside. Women now dazzle in both – Valkyrie championship trophies overshadow the mens’ Valhallians. No one was prouder of their victories than George – the rugby lawyer who in the eyes of one observer “practiced law like take-no-prisoner rugby and played rugby like a lawyer always looking for the opportunity he could use to advantage.”
I don’t know if George had any love for poetry but a dozen lines written by John Masefield would be the kind of thought I think he would like to pass to those who loved him. Masefield was in his late Eighties when he died in England in 1867 at – “a ripe old age”of 87. George was a year younger.
In the spring of 1986 Velox started to fall on hard times on the field and this coincided with the impending graduation of a number of Vikings from Uvic. The Uvic graduates did not want to play for the existing clubs in town . In typical fashion George saw an opportunity and invited a few players including Mark Wyatt, Tony Arthurs and Mike Holmes to his basement in Broadmead. On the strength of many memorable whiskies, “donated” by one of his clients, the idea of Velox-Valhallians was borne. It was not a perfect marriage, bikers and eggheads, but George helped keep it together and the two partners soon learned and grew to appreciate each other’s strengths. There is no doubt that without each other the club would not have survived. George went on to make some noise and with connections help the club secure a long term lease on the old house and field of the Hume family.
George was always a great promoter of player’s welfare and rights and when Rugby Canada fired peremptorily beloved National Team coach David Clark , George sprang into action and organized a player’s strike. This was the impetus , after a long drawn out battle in the press and in rugby boardrooms, to a long needed change of governance at Rugby Canada and the re-hiring of David Clark.
One of George’s well known talents was the penning of nicknames for friends and enemies alike. Among the classics, the red jacket brigade ( for allicadoos at Rugby Canada) and the headless bunyon. These often coloured his public letters to the powers that be to great outrage.
George was ultimately proudest of his contribution to the establishment of the Canadian Rugby Foundation. George persevered , with others, through much opposition to secure approval to the establishment of the Foundation in 2002. With his persuasive charm Georgie helped convince Gren Thomas to donate a million dollars to establish the endowment. It was George’s dream to see rugby promoted in the poorer communities in all of Canada and to give opportunities to all young people to play the game he loved so much. In that spirit a scholarship has been established in his name.
A Song at Parting
The tick of the blood is settling slow, my heart will soon be still.
And ripe and ready am I for rest in the grave at the top of the hill;