Seagoe Church was packed for the funeral service for William (Willie) Gribben on Monday.
Mourners were there from all over Ireland and included former players, officials and representatives of a wide range of sports clubs, underlining the respect in which Willie was held.
Former Ireland and British Lions captain Rory Best was there along with his brother, ex-international Simon, Rory having worked closely with Willie in the development of mini-rugby in the country.
Also there were former British Lions Bill McBride and Ronnie Lamont and there was a message from another British Lion, Syd Millar, Willie having played with all three.
IRFU President Ian McIlrath was also there along with BBC rugby specialist Jim Neilly.
The church tribute was led by the Rev Barry Forde, a former pupil of Edenderry Primary School where Willie had been vice-principal – he later became principal of Bocombra Primary School - and he said the Gribben family had been touched by the messages of sympathy from all over the world.
Mr Forde, chaplain at Queen’s University, described Willie as ‘a wonderful human being’ who had influenced hundreds of boys, and girls, with his tireless work on the mini-rugby scene.
“He brought much fun and joy to so many, myself included, and there are very many youngsters who are better people because of his influence,” said Mr Forde. “He certainly shaped many lives and his work, not only in rugby circles but on the education scene, will never be forgotten.”
Many of those young people who benefitted from Willie’s work were there to pay their respects and they included parents whose children have benefitted from Willie’s work with the Panthers, a group set up for children with learning difficulties.
That was typical of Willie’s devotion to the rugby scene at Chambers Park.
He spent hours there every Saturday morning overseeing the mini rugby scene and, as Mr Forde said, everything was done meticulously. “He was the driving force at Chambers Park and his work had a tremendous influence on the lives of so many young people.”
Willie had won a host of awards for his rugby work over the years and this was capped last year when he was awarded the British Empire Medal for his work for rugby and the Panthers in particular.
Only this year his son, Barry, who paid a moving tribute to his dad, was also awarded the British Empire Medal.
Former Portadown Times editor David Armstrong said, “Willie did so much to put mini-rugby on the map.
“I worked closely with him when he was pushing to have the game publicised and, as Mr Forde said, he was meticulous in his approach to everything.
“I have many happy memories of working with Willie and one of his many qualities was that he never spoke ill of anyone.”
Seagoe rector, the Rev Terence Cadden, joined in the tributes and he said the thoughts and prayers of so many people were with Willie’s family – his wife, Edna, son Barry, daughter Karen. grandchildren Brendan, Toby, Poppy, Cassie, Drew. Brett and Mike, brother Lewis and sister, Dea. Another brother, Alan, died some years ago.
Donations in lieu of flowers are to Craigavon Cardiac Care and the IRFU Charitable Trust, cheques made payable to Milne Funeral Services donation account, c/o Milne Funeral Services, 59 Seagoe Road, Portadown, BT63 5HS.