Farewell, Don Morrison

The American and international rugby communities lost a respected referee, mentor, administrator, fan, and friend this weekend in Don Morrison.

Morrison's dream was to leave a legacy by creating a self-sustaining endowment that would effect growth in match officials, including lowering the age at which Americans are introduced to refereeing. The Shanagher Morrison Referee Fund, fully supported through generous contributions to USA Rugby Trust, has already seen six young referees spend competitive seasons abroad in rugby-mad countries like New Zealand and South Africa.

Though he never played the game, Morrison was one of rugby's main proponents in the United States throughout his 23-year career as a match official and nearly 50 years of growing the game off of the pitch. Most recently, he was inducted into the United States Rugby Foundation's U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame.

While exercising/rehabbing post-knee surgery in 1967, a young Morrison found himself wanted on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology rugby team. Rather than risk aggravating a potentially crippling injury, he politely declined. The team did not want to see a youthful, athletic member of the MIT community walk away from a chance to improve the school's rugby club, and invited him to referee.

"I said I didn't 'know the rules,'" Morrison wrote for South Africa Referees in 2012.

"That's okay; neither do we," the team replied.

Shortly after joining the ranks of whistle-blowers and flag-raisers and one year following his graduation from MIT, Morrison helped found the Boston Rugby Referees Society, now the New England Rugby Referees Society. Beginning with a stint as treasurer, he was eventually elected to each administrative position within the Society by 1981.

From 1981 and 1990, Morrison traveled as an international referee, officiating matches between touring test sides, domestic national championships matches, collegiate matches, and matches at all levels between. When not wearing the whistle, however, he was busy ensuring referees would continue to get better.

Morrison hung up the international referee boots in 1990, but immediately moved on to chair the USA Rugby Referee & Laws Committee, as well as the Evaluation Committee. He instituted performance reviews for referees following each match; until that time referees were not given a "grading report."

The retention rate of referees following retirement rose thanks to the advances Morrison initiated. He was commissioned as a match officials performance reviewer by The International Rugby Board (now World Rugby), which also used the training courses Morrison helped create as a guide for its own certification processes.

Those wishing to honor Don's passing and benefit the development of American referees are invited to make a gift supporting the Shanagher Morrison Referee Fund.

The accolades are numerous, while the respect of the non-rugby-playing Morrison grew by virtue of his professionalism, candidness, and passion around the world.

Thank you, Don.