San Diego, CA (September 18, 2015) – United States Rugby lost one of its best referees of all-time last week with the passing of 2015 U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Don Morrison. Don died quietly at home with his wife of 49 years, Trudy, and his dog, Misty, by his side. He was 72.
Picking up the whistle having never once participated as a player in a practice or match, was just one of many things that separated Don from the rest in the referee corps.
Don was an outstanding rugby referee at every level of play. However, he will be the first to tell you that those first few years of his refereeing career were developmental, not high performance. During this developmental time he relied exclusively on feedback from players and coaches.
“In the late 60s and early 70s there were no assessors, referee coaches or opportunities for peers to watch my games. I relied completely on feedback from players and coaches. In view of my successful progression to International Referee, my reliance on player feedback established an appreciation of the game that worked out well for me.”
Don was an international referee from 1981 until 1990. While Don was an international referee he refereed numerous national club championship matches, national collegiate championship matches, regional select side matches (e.g., Canadian Provincial Championships matches and USA Interterritorial matches), international select side matches (e.g., Canada East versus Italy and USA West versus Japan) and international test matches.
Perhaps the most notable test match he refereed was the politically controversial game between USA and South Africa in 1981. He was also the first American referee to represent USA Rugby on appointment to the national rugby unions of England (1982), New Zealand (1983) and Wales (1987).
Throughout his career, Don has always been involved in the administrative aspects of rugby refereeing. In 1967 he was one of the co-founders of the New England Rugby Referees Society (nee the Boston Rugby Referees Society). From 1967 to 1981, Don assumed, at one time or another, every administrative role of the New England Rugby Referees Society.
Don retired from being an international referee in 1990 and immediately began serving USA Rugby in various administrative roles. He was Chairman of the Referee & Laws Committee from 1990 to 1998, and concurrently he was Chairman of the Evaluation Committee from 1990 to 2002. During this time Don led the effort to make the Referee & Laws Committee a revenue generating operation to assist in the funding of referee travel.
He developed and implemented certification courses for referees and for evaluators. These courses predated the current courses offered by World Rugby (nee the International Rugby Board). The World Rugby courses and the USA Rugby Referee & Laws Committee courses borrowed the same good ideas from the all over the world, which meant the two sets of courses were very similar. USA Rugby adopted the World Rugby courses once they became available in order to be aligned with World Rugby.
Don was a certified Match Official Performance Reviewer for the International Rugby Board (IRB) from 2002 until 2005. During that time the IRB assigned him to assess referees of international test matches. Don also assessed other international matches for the IRB, such as the Churchill Cup matches in 2004 to 2005.
In 2005, Don was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable but treatable blood cancer. After his diagnosis of having multiple myeloma he gradually discontinued some of his administrative activities, including the IRB certified roles of Match Official Performance Reviewer and Referee Trainer/Educator.
He also discontinued writing articles for Referees Corner in Rugby Magazine. Over the course of 15 years he had written a total of 145 articles. Up until his death, he was a member of the USA National Panel of Performance Reviewers, a position he held from 1990, and he was also very active as a referee evaluator for the New England Rugby Referees Society.
Throughout his career Don has been honored with numerous awards, including a very memorable banquet arranged in his honor by the New England Rugby Referees Society. The three awards that are the most significant to him are the following:
Don received both his B.S degree (1966) and his PhD degree (1970) from MIT. His education served him well throughout his professional career. He was a senior manager for three large companies: Polaroid (1970s), Kendall/Colgate Palmolive (1980s) and International Paper (1990s). He was particularly successful in heading up the manufacturing and research operations for a global venture start up in the 1980s. He retired at the ripe old age of 54 in 1998 and never looked back.
There is not a grain of doubt that the most significant event in Don’s life is his marriage to Trudy on June 7, 1966.
Tributes from in and out of the rugby referee community have started to come into the U.S. Rugby Foundation.
He was a great referee but an even better person.
The Referee and Laws Committee of USA Rugby would like to mark Don Morrison’s passing by noting the generation of rugby players who benefitted from his exemplary international refereeing career, and then the subsequent generations of referees who improved as a result of his tireless efforts on their behalf.
As a referee performance evaluator, he devoted uncounted hours over many years sharing his expertise and mentoring those who would follow in his footsteps. There has not been an upper-level USA referee in the past 25 years who did not owe Don a debt of gratitude.
Don was a previous chairman of the R&L Committee, and I am privileged to wear that pair of his shoes and to honor his friendship and his memory.
We enjoyed Don’s messages at the Hall of Fame induction dinner. Pleased we could be with him and he could enjoy being with friends. He was a major contributor for the advancement of refereeing and officiating in American Rugby. We will miss our friend but will always remember his efforts!
Don was a humble and quiet Rugby man on and off the field. His knowledge of the game as a referee was always respected by the players. He made calls that were fair from start to finish and he will be remembered as one of the best referees who called the game. It was an Honor to know him…..Alas, he was simply a lovely man who will still be making those calls.
Don was devoted to refereeing rugby for many years and continued to mentor young referees. He established a trust with USA Rugby as a scholarship to fund young referees training. His support of this part of our game will be sorely missed. I am glad that he was able to attend his induction into the U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame.”
Every Referees course or clinic should conclude with “Be Don Morrison!”
Don Morrison was a great referee, referee performance reviewer/evaluator, and referee administrator. He changed the face of American refereeing for the better, bringing stability, organization, and increasing standards of excellence to the Art of Refereeing, all to make the referees and The Game better in the U.S. And he was a wonderful guy, a great friend. As Bryan Porter, former National Evaluator and great friend of Don has put it so well, ‘Don’s death has taken a huge chunk out of all our lives.’
When I took the job as USAR’s first Referee Development Manager the task seemed daunting, and at times impossible. There were well-meaning forces that thought the status quo was just fine and my position represented a wrong turn. I haven’t the words to describe how important it was to me that one man, the man who commanded the greatest respect within the referee community, Don Morrison, staunchly supported me through those early days.
He was my life raft, my advisor, my shoulder to cry on, my friend. I would not have stayed on past the first year without his encouragement and comfort. May his ghost haunt me forever.
Don was one of the great referees on my era as a player. He understood the game and the player’s perspective, and as a result, made it more enjoyable for all participants. I will never forget his role in the greatest Eagles game that no one ever saw – against the Springboks on a farm field in Albany, NY, in 1981. I am proud that my family is now part of the young referee’s scholarship fund started by Don.
Denis F. Shanagher
Don was the first referee I met when arriving in Boston in 1982 from South Africa where I had been a ref for the old Transvaal Rugby Football Union.
I was immediately impressed with his knowledge and “feel” for the game and so much enjoyed our referees meetings because of his leadership.
I will never forget one Monday morning when he called me at my office and said “guess what I did over the weekend?” Of course he was referring to the famous Eagles vs Springboks game on the polo field and we had lots to talk about.
Rugby is going to miss him sorely!