The life and times of Vaughan Parry Williams

 VPW 6 - final - Brian Moore
- Vaughan Parry Williams with the Men's First XV ahead of a final in 1984 - but can you recognise one familiar face who went on to become our most famous alumnus to pull on an England shirt?

With a career at the University’s sports department spanning more than 30 years – and the vast majority of this time involved with the Rugby Club – arguably there is no one individual who had an influence on more young lives passing through the department’s doors than Vaughan Parry Williams.

Former Director of Sport and Head Coach of the men’s team, Vaughan died in 2009 but even today his legacy endures. Current students and club representatives pass through the doors of the pavilion named in his honour at Highfields on a daily basis.

Dorothy Williams, Vaughan’s wife and friend of the University, shares with us more about the man who dedicated much of his life to supporting many of you.

On Vaughan’s love of rugby

Vaughan attended primary school in Skewen, a village in South Wales nestled between Swansea and Neath. It was here that he was first introduced to rugby which became his passion in life. He was influenced by his Uncle Will who was a keen follower of Welsh rugby and it was he who took Vaughan to both local and international rugby matches. 

At eleven Vaughan began attending Neath Grammar School where he played both rugby and tennis in school teams. He started life as a prop and famously got up from a mistimed engage at a scrum with one of his front teeth embedded into the top of his opposite number’s head.

VPW 2 - Neath Grammar
- A team photo at Neath Grammar School with a young Vaughan as captain (front row centre with ball)

After sustaining a number of concussions over the intervening years Vaughan, under medical advice, stopped playing rugby on a regular basis, taking up refereeing and management roles – particularly at Cardiff College of Education, now Cardiff Metropolitan University. 

It was here, whilst Student Manager of the Rugby Club, he received a call from the Sports Editor of the Western Mail informing him that one of his fellow students, a young 19 year old by the name of Gareth Edwards, had been selected to play for Wales. Vaughan and a few friends took great pleasure in going round to Gareth’s room to break the good news. 

After qualifying as a teacher Vaughan spent a couple of years in Northampton at Trinity Grammar School where he took charge of their first XV. It was whilst teaching here that he and I met on a holiday trip. Our courtship continued and married 1970.  

In September of that year we went to work in The Bahamas living in the village of Holmes Rock where I became the first qualified teacher at the school. Shortly afterwards, Vaughan became Assistant Master of Physical education at Eight Mile Rock High School and in 1973 became head of the department. He continued his passion for rugby captaining the Freeport team and also representing the Bahamas on a number of occasions – something he also achieved in squash. 

VPW 4 - Freeport Bahamas- - A team photo of the Freeport team, captained by Vaughan during his brief time in the Bahamas

His time at the University of Nottingham

After a happy six years in the Bahamas, Vaughan and I decided to move back to the UK for the sake of our children. Having been offered a few positions Vaughan began work in October 1976 as Assistant Director of Sport and Recreation at Nottingham University where he would later become Director and Head of Department.

It wasn’t long before he got involved in coaching both rugby and squash. I’m sure the students were happy with this as the following year he used his contacts to take a tour back to the Bahamas! He was never a “shouter” in his coaching style and always seemed to know how to get the best out of people, leading by example…especially on the Wollaton Park runs.

In the 1980s Vaughan became manager of the English Universities Rugby Team and had the privilege of seeing many future international pass through the ranks, including one of the University’s very own: Brian Moore.

He was a founder member of the BUSA Rugby committee which he went on to chair. In 2002 Vaughan became one of the two student representatives on the RFU Council which "he served with distinction" until he died in June 2009. 

He was match secretary and coach to the Midlands Universities from 1977-98, served on the Nottinghamshire RFU committee for 32 years and was president of Nottingham and NLD earning him Honorary Life membership in 2005.

He also coached Nottinghamshire under 23's from 1977 -1982. Not content with this, Vaughan continued to excel as a rugby referee and attained RFU "A" list panel referee status from 1987-94 and during his life refereed at every premiership rugby ground in England. 

VPW 14 - RFU Council photo only 2009- - A group shot of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) Council taken in 2009 (Vaughan can be seen in the second row from the top in the middle)

His legacy

In October 2009 Vaughan was posthumously given an award from BUSA for "Outstanding Contribution to Higher Education in Sport" and received a standing ovation. He was the first recipient of this award which is now given annually in his name at the BUCS rugby final. 

Vaughan was a big believer in “what goes on tour, stays on tour” – but he certainly enjoyed the social aspect that came along with rugby. He particularly enjoyed the occasional tour as coach and it was, I believe, one tour to France where he discovered one of the lads had a photographic memory for specific horse races and would entertain the bus with his commentaries. I also think this was the tour when a number of the lads returned with an eyebrow or even half a head of hair missing!

Most of his stories on coaching were positive; how he saw individuals and the team improve, how the team were bonding, and how he’d make the lads run up hills for hours! Also, there was always a special glint in his eye on the days when they beat Loughborough.

Vaughan just loved the game of rugby, and particularly student rugby. The University environment suited him. He had natural empathy with the students, and though he devoted much of his attention to the Rugby Club, he never stinted in his efforts to help everyone involved in all the University sports clubs.

Competitive as he was Vaughan would not betray his fundamental belief in fair play and true sportsmanship. Rugby, and sport in general, represented an opportunity to learn social skills, to develop friendships and to appreciate the unselfishness of teamwork. I am sure the students who had contact with Vaughan remember him with true affection.

He not only enjoyed interaction with the “better” players but loved to see new people engage with the sport – in fact any sport.

His passion for sport was massive and also was the devotion to his family. Yes, he committed time into his sport, and certainly increased the washing duties of the household, but he also provided for and loved his family dearly.

The sudden loss of Vaughan hit many people hard, none more so than his family. We can take great comfort and immense pride from the legacy he has left behind.

With thanks to Dorothy Williams & family for the words and photos.

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