Tributes flow in honour of Newcastle rugby’s quiet achiever

GRAHAM Cowan served on the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union board for 25 years, was vice president for half that time and was bestowed life membership in 1996.

LOYAL SERVANT: NHRU vice president Graham "Sleepy" Cowan. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

LOYAL SERVANT: NHRU vice president Graham "Sleepy" Cowan. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

But you won’t find photos of the man known affectionately as “Sleepy” handing out awards or front and centre at luncheons and presentation nights.

Cowan spent most of his time in the background, normally on the sideline  – wearing tracksuit pants, a floppy hat and a hi-vis ground manager’s vest – or with his head buried in a laptop.

Cowan died on Saturday after a battle with cancer. He was aged 69.

“Sleepy was old school,” friend and former long-time NHRU president Phil Payne said. “He didn’t crave the limelight. He was content to work away in the background and help every body. He always had the NHRU’s interests at heart and open to any way in which we could improve the code in the region.

“While Sleepy played rugby in an era which could be considered old fashioned, along with his dress sense, his adaption towards new technology was legendary. He was ahead of the field. A great rugby man, a quiet achiever and a good friend.”

Payne’s sentiments were a common thread among players and administrators alike at NHRU and Maitland cricket clubs, where he also served on the executive.

Cowan joined University rugby club in 1972. A hooker, he played mainly in the lower grades, and won second and third grade premierships in the 70s. He played 141 games in total for the Students and continued to serve the club in a variety of administration roles.

“Sleepy was one nature’s quiet achievers who had a great passion for sport, in particular rugby,” close friend and fellow University and NHRU board member Andrew Walker said.

“He held a number of positions with Uni and delivered a degree of excellence that saw him awarded a University Colour.

“He was elected to the board of the NHRU in 1992 and served as treasurer, registrar, junior and senior vice president and co-ordinated the final series for a number of years. The one constant on the NHRU board has been Sleepy. His knowledge of local rugby, its operation and governance, is without parallel. Over time, the constitution and competition by-laws became Sleepy’s bible. He understood, amended, rewrote and created many sections. He could quote the appropriate section when issues arose at the drop of a hat. He was certainly one of a kind.”

Cowan’s wife Eira died in 1994. He is survived by daughters Lezette and Patricia.

A funeral service will be held at Wests Newcastle on Monday at noon.