San Diego, CA (June 29, 2015) – The sport of Rugby is mourning the loss of a true legend as news of Keith Seaber’s passing late last week is spreading throughout the rugby community. Keith’s passion for rugby was second to none as evidenced by his 75 year involvement in the sport as a player, referee, manager, administrator and avid supporter.
Keith first played rugby in 1940 at the Cambridge School for Boys, and he continued playing during his service in the Royal Navy.
He immigrated to Canada in 1953 and began playing with the Bytown Beavers (now the Ottawa Beavers) and then in 1958 with the Toronto Saracens. It was at that time that he began to referee. A normal Saturday would include Keith playing a 1st XV game, then refereeing a 2nd XV match, and often again playing with a 3rd XV team.
It was in Toronto that he began his involvement with rugby administration. Keith was a Director of the Ontario Union, later becoming Vice-President. In addition, he was the Vice-Chairman of the Rugby Tours Committee of Canada, now known as the CRU.
Keith remembers his days involved with Canadian rugby fondly. His best memory of Canada was while he was the Chairman of the Ontario selection Committee. He managed and coached the Ontario side that played Scotland, only losing 16-10. Scotland had been a powerhouse that year as the grand slam winners of 1963/4. That game made lifelong friendships that he still maintains with players from Melrose, Scotland.
In 1965 Keith moved to St. Louis, MO. There he joined the Rambler Rugby Club and continued both playing and refereeing. This led him to join the Midwest Union, where he filled many positions, including: Chairman of selectors; Chair of the Referees Committee; President of the Midwest Union 1971-2 and June 1980 – January 1981; and Coach of the Midwest team from 1972-1978. Likely the greatest match he coached during that time was in 1976 against the English Champions, the London Welsh. Keith’s Midwest team won 17-16.
Keith represented the Midwest Union at the 1975 formation of the U.S. National Rugby Union. He served for 15 years on the U.S. Union’s Board of Directors, and at times he held the positions of Secretary and Vice-president.
He managed the first Eagles team in 1976 when they played against Australia and coached the Eagles in the first Can-Am match in 1977.
Because of his relationship with Canadian rugby, Keith attended all of the first 25 Can-Am games, at times serving as the only U.S. official present at the match.
Keith was also very involved with the Cougars, a team that played internationally and was compiled of players from across the United States. He managed the 1978 team that toured South Africa and subsequently organized matches against Northampton and Melrose during their tours to the US.
He again took the Cougars on tour in 1985. They traveled the Southwest of England after playing in the Harlequins/Lords Taverners’ Sevens. To end the tour they traveled to Scotland to play in the Kelso Sevens. Though they lost in the semi-finals, they were immediately invited to the following year’s Melrose Sevens.
In the 1986 Melrose Sevens the Cougars lost to the Racing Club of France during the semi-final. Although they lost, the crowd responded with a standing ovation for the Cougars. They saluted the high caliber of players, both on and off the field, and the selection of such players was something that Keith took great pride in. He considered the Melrose salute to his Cougars team as one of his greatest moments in rugby.
In 1996, upon the request of National Team coach, Jack Clark, Keith became the Director of Sevens for the National Teams. He took those teams to Mar de Plata, Argentina, Punta del Este, Uruguay, Paris, Dubai, and Hong Kong.
During the Punta del Este and Paris tournaments, he attended talks to form a World Series of Sevens. At the Paris meeting the IRB announced their intention to form an international series of Sevens tournaments. A committee was formed and Keith was chosen to represent all of the non-IRB member countries. In Malaysia, 1988, Keith, Stephen Baines (IRB Secretary), Lee Smith (IRB), Fraser Neil (NZ & Australia) and Allen Payne (Hong Kong RFU) formed the IRB Sevens World Series.
After a serious car accident and subsequent health problems, Keith retired from active rugby administration in 2002.
For all his contributions to the sport of Rugby, Keith was one of just six in the first class of U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame inductees that were enshrined in 2011.
Keith was predeceased by his wife of 60 years, Doreen, who passed away on June 6, 2013. Keith is survived by his two sons, Dallas and Lance. Condolences can be sent to Dallas Seaber, at 602 E. Kent Avenue, Missoula, MT 59801, or Lance Seaber, at 7340 N.W. Moore Lane, Prineville, OR 97754.
Lance was with his father when he passed away and said his dad was thinking about his rugby friends in his last moments. “Dad wanted everyone in the rugby world to know that he loved them very much. He loved his family and we had many wonderful years together, but his passion was the world of rugby and to be with the boys. He wanted to be in Chicago and was so disappointed when he realized he wouldn’t be able to attend. He’s probably out on a rugby field right now in spirit.”
The U.S. Rugby Foundation was flooded with tributes to Keith upon the news of his death. Below is just a small sampling of those tributes.
“I was blessed to learn the Game of Rugby in the early Seventies from two Hall of Famers – Secretary Harry Langenberg and Coach Keith Seaber, the “Yin and Yang” of the Rambler Rugby Club and Missouri Rugby Football Union. Keith was a great mentor and friend, who lived life to the fullest and on his own terms. Against doctors’ orders, he chose to finish things up the same way – by attending the St. Louis wedding of his godson, and meeting, one last time, with his old Rambler teammates for an all-afternoon session of good beer and better stories. Keith will be missed, but NEVER forgotten.”
Dan McGuire – Once A Rambler, Always a Rambler
“During the forty-five years I have known Keith Seaber he was an enthusiastic developer of all aspects of Rugby Football in America – administration, coaching, competition, playing, refereeing, sportsmanship, and youth rugby. While Keith represents a tireless example of the values we all endeavor to live by, one thing his many friends will remember him for – he was always there for others.”
“Sad to hear that Keith has passed on. We first met at the RFU Centenary Conference at Cambridge UK in 1970-71, some 45 years ago, and on a number of occasions since. He was an English emigrant to the USA and came across from his home town of Northampton. He was a dedicated rugby union man and supporter and a real follower. He brought a team across on tour and I remember they played against Gloucester, that was like Northampton, a premiership side, much to Keith’s delight. I believe that was last time we met. Thank you for telling about his passing. Keith will be much missed in the rugby world of the USA. A great rugby man.”
John V Smith
“We all definitely stood on Keith’s shoulders. His vision and love for the game and for all of us who benefited from his many years of heartfelt dedication, he will truly be missed.”
“Keith Seaber was the epitome of what USA Rugby was built on. He was focused on the goal to do what he could to establish the game in America. He was determined to make it happen. He is guy who will be missed but not forgotten, he always kept the player front and foremost. Keith always had time for a beer with the boys and enjoyed being one all of his life. To Keith!”
“Substantial men such as Keith, are many things to many people, to me, he was both a renown gentleman and a distinguished servant of our game. American rugby stands on the shoulders of Keith Seaber and a few of his contemporaries.”
“Keith was an Icon in rugby for all of North America. In addition to his huge involvement in USA Rugby from both the playing and the administrative side, Keith was also involved in the game in the Ontario RFU, and in early days of the Canadian RFU. He was an individual truly committed to the sport of Rugby.”
“I had the honor of being selected by Keith for the 1986 and 1988 Melrose Sevens Tournaments as a member of the Cougars. Keith’s special ties to Melrose and its people were obvious. Last year, Keith called me to see if I would join him again as manager of the Tigers team at the Melrose Sevens. How could I refuse a man who’s meant so much to me and the sport here? We didn’t fare so well on the pitch but I’ll cherish that week I got to spend with Keith in Melrose. He will be missed.”
“As the first president of the Midwest RFU, I called for several business meetings, beginning in 1964, to determine our goals and vision.
In 1966 out of nowhere Keith Seaber, from St. Louis, showed up at a meeting and was suspect because he came from west of the Mississippi, which was to become the Western RFU. However, he had many qualities that were in short supply at the MWRFU. He had experience as a referee, a selector, a team manager, had played schoolboy rugby and was an avid party goer.
Our meetings initially had two Englishmen and 10 Americans from Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota. Although Keith had one of the longest commutes for our Chicago meetings, he never turned down a chance to meet or to referee. As a result of his faithful efforts over 10 years he became one of the four Governors from the MWRFU to create the USARFU. For the USA he filled an important role as a national selector for several years and later as a team manager.
Years later at a Saturday match in Madison, Wisconsin there was a drenching downpour. The players questioned playing but Keith said, “Rugby is never called off for rain or for sodden fields”. When the rain let up a day or two later the University fields were so torn up that the field maintenance crew complained and within days the rugby club was banned from the campus. Keith said, “Don’t blame me, it’s rugby!” Eventually Wisconsin rugby was reinstated under a different name and Keith’s time on the field, in meetings and in pubs have become legend.”