RNRU Life Member Lt Cdr Derek Rowland MBE - Obituary

When Roger Parker invited Derek Rowland to succeed him as Secretary of the Royal Navy Rugby Union Referees’ Society he knew he was entrusting it to one of the most accomplished administrators that Navy refereeing has ever had the good fortune to call one of its own.  He had already galvanised the training for new referees and sown the seeds for the most successful period in the Society’s history.  Derek was made a Life Member of both the Royal Navy Rugby Union and the Referees’ Society when he retired from the Royal Navy in 1992, in recognition of the significant amount of time and energy he had given to help others and to further rugby union across the Naval Service.  Sadly, he passed away peacefully on 16 November 2015.

His four years as Society Secretary were highly effective although it is probably as a trainer, assessor, mentor and friend of referees that Derek is best known and most fondly remembered.  To this day, he remains the only person I have ever met to make the Rugby Law Book sound remotely interesting, each important aspect of law brought to life using a seemingly endless supply of anecdotes, painting a picture as vivid as any of those seen in today’s educational law videos.  Despite being an accomplished referee himself, winning his colours at Twickenham in 1976, the stories and tips were always based in the delights of ship, establishment and commando rugby that made them resonate for the newcomers on his courses, looking to transfer from testing the referee to become a referee being tested.

For Derek, the courses he ran were always seen as the beginning of a referee’s journey, a journey that he was always on hand to assist with throughout.  It was because of his high quality mentoring that the Royal Navy referees were soon punching above their weight and at one stage the RN had four referees active on the national list, a figure unprecedented for any of the three Services and not repeated since.

This was achieved through a wide network of contacts across the game to ensure that those referees showing talent would always be given games that gently stretched them.  If you were fortunate to have him watch one of your games his sage advice was never too much, just one of two points to help you reach the next rung of the ladder.  Even after his retirement from the Royal Navy and relocation to the peace and quiet of West Wales, his ability to keep abreast of both the Game and the individual Navy referees’ progress remained as tuned as ever.  On more than one occasion a short note would arrive with pertinent advice or timely congratulations on a promotion yet to be officially announced.

I am sure the award of his MBE in 1991 was due to an equally accomplished time, as a Weapons Engineer, serving the Ordnance Board in London, but it would have been equally valid for his contribution to Service rugby refereeing for over twenty years.  He will be a greatly missed contributor to the success of Navy Referees where the influence of his contribution continues to this day.

Lt Cdr Derek Edward Rowland MBE sadly passed away, aged 77, on 16 November 2015.  His funeral will be at Parc Gwyn Crematorium, Narberth on Friday 27 November at 1 p.m. Enquiries Paul Jenkins and Sons 01348 873250.

By Geraint Ashton Jones