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Ray Gravell obituary

 

His sudden death from a suspected heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 56 has robbed his family of a tender-hearted father and the rugby world of one of its most warm-spirited figures. Clouds will have swept in over his cherished corner of west Wales as the news broke, although it won't be long before the sound of larynx being cleared and song echoing are heard above.

 

Laughter and tears, that was Grav, a heaving bundle of fun and a bag of nerves. He was a fine player, one who played as he looked, with the ferocious Desire of a wild spirit. The hard exterior contained a soft centre. Peter Jackson's appreciation of him in his seminal tome, Lions of Wales, tells of the moment Gravell opened a telegram from home in Mynyddygarreg moments before his debut against France at the Parc des Princes in 1975.

 

"To my dear Raymond, best wishes. Stop. All our love. Stop. Mammy and Toodles."

 

Mother and family cat were dear to him given that at 14 he, an only child, had found his father, Jack, out on the mountain top, dead by his own hand. His father, a miner incapacitated by a back injury, was 42.

 

Emotion, in all its shades, was an intrinsic part of Gravell. It was there in his play, as a barnstorming centre for Llanelli, Wales and the British and Irish Lions. He won 23 Wales caps, and left many a mark on opponents in his seven years of Test rugby. He even grew to love the English, making many pals on the 1980 Lions tour to South Africa under the captaincy of Bill Beaumont.

 

His off-field work in the media, his presidency of Llanelli RFC, his wanderings and musings, brought him into contact with many folk. Few will not have remembered the moment. "Grav was a great man," Wales and Llanelli fly-half Stephen Jones said. "No one ever had a bad word to say about Grav, and he never said a bad word about anyone." He battled his demons and his illnesses with fortitude. He was diagnosed with diabetes in 1980, and his leg was amputated below the knee only six months ago.

 

The Welsh Rugby Union said Gravell "epitomised the passion, flair and dignity of his beloved Welsh nation". He was due to present the shirts to the team before the game against South Africa in three weeks.

 

"It's a very sad day," former Wales team-mate Gareth Edwards said. "But when I look back and think of Ray Gravell I'll remember the joy and immense pleasure he gave us."

 

He won't be alone.

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A gentleman, a patriot and an vital part of one of the golden ages of Welsh Rugby.

 

Died far too young.

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