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26 January, 2011

One of his generation’s finest all-round sportsmen who gave it all up at 24 to work for Moral Re-Armament

Brian Boobbyer
Brian Boobbyer
Brian Boobbyer, who died on January 17 aged 82, was one of the finest all-round sportsman of his era, but like CT Studd and Eric Liddell before him, chose to give up his sporting career in his prime.

By 1952 he had won nine England rugby caps as a centre and was possibly the most inventive and exciting back in the five nations that year. He was also coveted by Middlesex to open the batting following four years in the Oxford University cricket side. Yet, at the age of 24, he turned his back on both games to work and travel overseas with Dr Frank Buchman’s Moral Re-Armament movement.

Boobbyer was born on February 25 1928, the second son of an Ealing doctor. Sport, particularly cricket, was his passion. In 1939, as an 11-year-old, he opened the batting for Durston House prep school and went the whole season without getting out. At Uppingham he represented England Schoolboys, scoring a century at Lord’s against the Combined Services. He was also head boy.

By contrast, he disliked rugby because he hated tackling. It was only at the age of 15, when he found himself unable to get out of the way of a large opponent whom he was forced to tackle, that his opinion of the game was transformed. ‘Overnight,’ he recalled, ‘a game I hated became a game I loved.’

Such was his flair for the sport that after school, while doing his national service, he played rugby for Rosslyn Park. He went up to Oxford in 1948 to read history at Brasenose with a reputation as a cricketer and a rugby player. He showed first as a cricketer, getting his Blue as a fresher in 1949. The first ball he faced in first class cricket was delivered by Fred Trueman. As he struggled to cope, Norman Yardley, captain of Yorkshire and England, walked past him and said, ‘Don’t worry Brian, you’re doing well.’ He always remembered those words of encouragement.

Brian Boobbyer
Brian Boobbyer
Over the next four years he played alongside and against the likes of Carr, Dewes, Doggart, Subba Row, May, Cowdrey and Sheppard, scoring two first class hundreds against Sussex and Lancashire and a match-winning 80 in the 1951 varsity match.

While he was a doughty rather than a spectacular cricketer, the same was not true of his rugby. He was an outstanding sevens player and broke into the Oxford side in his second year, playing in three varsity matches, all on the winning side. By Christmas 1949 he was catching the attention of the England selectors, and he made his debut against Wales the following term.

He went on to win nine caps in the next three seasons, catching the eye in a tour to South African in 1951 and getting the only score in a 3-0 victory against Ireland the following year.

At the end of his second year Boobbyer’s history tutor took him aside and told him that he had a choice: complete a special paper and go for a first (impinging on his sporting commitments) or settle for a third. His tutor strongly recommended the latter course, to which he happily acquiesced.

Boobbyer had always taken his Christian faith seriously. His maternal grandfather, E D Shaw, had been Bishop of Buckingham. While at Oxford, Boobbyer discovered the work of Frank Buchman whose Moral Re-Armament movement, originally known as the Oxford Group, was challenging students to make their Christian commitment relevant to national life. Boobbyer was among those who accepted Buchman’s challenge.

[He was not the only international sportsman to do so. Others who joined Buchman included Peter Howard, journalist and captain of England at rugby, Conrad Hunte, the great West Indies opening batsman, Dickie Dodds, the Essex opening bat, and most famously of all Bunny Austin, still the last British tennis player to get to the men’s singles final at Wimbledon.]

Brian Boobbyer
Brian Boobbyer
Following his last term at Oxford Boobbyer again went on a rugby tour, this time to Japan, but when it was over, and the others were heading home, he stayed in Japan to work with an international MRA group, promoting post-war reconciliation. His decision was not universally popular back home and even his family were split over it. He never played rugby or cricket again at a serious level.

Boobbyer subsequently travelled to many parts of the world, including the Philippines, America and India. He found that he had a gift as a public speaker, presenting spiritual truths in ways that many could understand and appreciate. He devoted the rest of his life to that work.

In 2005 the family collected together the best of his talks and writings, publishing them as a paperback, Like a Cork out of Bottle. The title was a reference to a description of him in a book on the history of the varsity match, but it could have equally been applied to the way he approach his faith.

Brian Boobbyer married, in 1957, Juliet Rodd, daughter of Lord Rennell of Rodd, and they eventually settled in Oxford, where they worked for many years. In recent years they lived in Presteigne, Powys. She survives him along with their two sons.

This obituary first appeared in The Daily Telegraph, 22 January 2011. [Additional text added in square brackets.]

Download tributes to Brian Boobbyer made at his funeral on 28 January 2011 (in PDF).

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