Norman Mair - a true one-off

Norman Mair. Picture: Martin Hunter
Norman Mair. Picture: Martin Hunter
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For more than a quarter of a century, myself and sports-writer Norman Mair, who has died aged 86, travelled across the world more than once in the cause of chronicling rugby.

The journey I’ll best remember in his company, though, was across a golf club car park.

My family, as I was later to discover, had gone to lengths to keep a party marking an upcoming significant birthday from me. Norman, already invited and allegedly sworn to secrecy, simply mentioned in passing how much he was looking forward to it!

The secret was blown, I kept suitably shtoom eventually feigning surprise and a great night was had featuring Norman and wife Lewine as quintessential (a Norman word!) good company.

After all, the incident merely served to provide another insight into how Norman, pre-occupied with turning his next phrase, would sometimes come across as a bumbling-professor type, although in reality he was anything but.

What made Norman endearing for me was a mixture of boyish enthusiasm for all things sport, an attention to detail bordering on the fanatical and an intoxicating sense of humour.

It was 1990, we were in Nelson, New Zealand, and I returned from telephoning the office to learn that Wallace Mercer of Hearts was attempting to buy out Hibs and force an “amalgamation” of the clubs.

“Oh heavens,” wailed Norman, a Hibee by inclination if rarely practising “it’s one thing to return from a rugby tour and find someone has run off with your wife... but your football team. That’s terrible!”

No crocodile tears either; Norman told me how one of his first dates with Lewine was to a Hibs-Rangers tie at Easter Road “amidst a jam-packed swaying crowd”.

Although we worked on the same paper only briefly when Norman had a column in the Evening News after retiring from The Scotsman, he kindly accepted an invitation to a lunch laid on to mark my 40 years with the company which is where his astounding recall surfaced.

Norman and another old friend sat discussing Gordon Smith’s first game after moving from Hibs to Hearts.

“It was a reserve match and 15,000 turned up,” recalled my friend, who added: “Norman then contradicted me, saying the crowd was 14,382!”

Similarly I recall Norman returning from interviewing Ivan Lendl long before the Czech became Andy Murray’s coach and demonstrating at enormous length various ways of placing your hand on the racket grip to effect different types of serve.

On those occasions Norman had all the time in the world and, in truth, he was the antithesis of the phrase that has you believe journalism is “history in a hurry”.

That did, however, work to advantage at Duddingston golf club where we are both members and where, to my delight, we conferred Honorary Membership on him this year.

With Norman charged with writing a centenary history it was clear the deadline would pass almost unnoticed, which for a centenary book could have been fatal had he not skilfully suggested publishing the tome after various events had taken place so as to record them. That was a typical stroke of genius from a man whose trademark was always a witty concluding paragraph.

Just as numbers on football or rugby jerseys are often “retired”, is it not appropriate here, in tribute to Norman’s personal domain, to play it straight?

Norman Mair, former rugby and cricket cap, leaves a wife Lewine, children Suzi, Michele, Logan and Patrick, grandchildren, and a legion of admirers.