The funeral which took place at Chiltern Crematorium, Amersham was attended by David Watkins Club President, Dennis Bennett Hon Sec, Mike Dams Management Committee and former players Trevor Brewer, Angus Evans, Haydn Mainwaring and Ian Ford.
MALCOLM THOMAS 1929-2012
Malcolm Thomas, who died on April 9 aged 82, was an integral part of Welsh rugby throughout the 1950s, playing alongside such great names as Bleddyn Williams, Jack Matthews, Ken Jones and Cliff Morgan. In a country ruled by a passion for the game, they belong to its folk lore but, of these four, only Jones equalled Thomas’s international playing span of ten years and only Jones and Morgan won more than his 27 caps.
Another mark of his remarkable durability as a player was his appearance on two British Lions tours to New Zealand in 1950 and 1959, the first involving travel by ship and six months away from work. At the time, it was an almost unparalleled achievement although the second tour signalled his retirement and a new challenge which brought significant success. Exchanging life in South Wales for life in South Bucks, he forged a notable career in business, becoming Managing Director of the Reed Group Packaging Division.
Malcolm Campbell Thomas was born in Machen, Monmouthshire on 25th April 1929, the year the land speed record was broken. His Christian names, therefore, were bestowed after the man behind the wheel. He was educated at Bassaleg Grammar School and Caerleon Training College before enlisting as Instructor Lieutenant in the Royal Navy on a three year short term commission. It was during this period that his rugby career really blossomed. Having first played for Newport in 1946, at the age of 17, he captained Devonport Services and the Navy, a sequence of events that led to his first cap for Wales against France in 1949.
France won in Paris, but better was to follow. In 1950, Wales won the Grand Slam for the first time since 1911 with Thomas scoring the winning try against Ireland in Belfast. Thus began a three-year unbroken run of selection. Over the years, it was invariably harder to leave him out of sides than to put him in. Thomas, a man of solid virtues and ready humour, was fond of recounting the time when, overlooked for one match, a majority of the selectors confided in private their sympathy at his omission and assured him he had had their vote.
A fractured leg confined him to the sidelines in the 1954/55 season but he was as happy representing Newport and the Barbarians as he was his country which he captained twice in 1957. He played for his club against South Africa in 1952, New Zealand in 1954 and Australia in 1957 and, at various times, turned out for Cornwall and Monmouthshire. Whereas, on the 1959 Lions Tour, he was the “father” of the party, in 1950 he was the “babe”. All the same, he finished top scorer with 96 points from 15 appearances. Altogether, he played for the Lions on thirty two occasions, scoring 152 points.
After one year as a teacher, Thomas changed course by joining Reed Corrugated Cases (then Thompson and Norris) in South Wales in 1952 but he always felt the most important landmark in business was stepping out of marketing into management. Almost his first assignment in that role in 1964 was looking after their factory in Hartlepool and then at Shirley in Birmingham but he returned south and, in 1973, was appointed Managing Director of Reed Group Packaging Division.
In 1981, he joined Jefferson Smurfit Packaging with whom he stayed as a non-executive officer after his retirement. He also held non-executive positions with other companies while still employed by Smurfits. In 1993, he was appointed Group Chairman of Hornby Hobbies.
For a year or two, Thomas reported rugby for the Sunday Telegraph but rugby was not his sole sporting interest. While at Devonport, he played cricket for Cornwall, making 50 at the Oval against Surrey II, renewing his participation much later by bowling fast “rib-ticklers” off a short run for Gerrards Cross. In addition, he played comfortably to a single-figure handicap at golf and was Captain of Denham Golf Club in 1981-2. In that capacity, he felt thoroughly at home as he could have fielded virtually an entire golf team comprising former rugby internationals who were fellow members.
In spite of failing health over the last few years, he was well enough to enjoy Wales’s recent resurgence at rugby even if he must have marvelled at the changes that have taken place since his distinguished playing day.
Malcolm Thomas married in 1953 Gwen Mallinson. She predeceased him. They had a daughter and a son Paul.
Written by Donald Steel.