A ‘HELLUVA’ GUY IS GEORGE

We hadn’t seen George for a couple of years, since before Covid hit, when he and his wife, Helen, visited us at Powdermills.  But he looks the same old George on screen, as cheery and charming as ever.  Only a tiny clue gives any hint that George is not 100%.  He wears a small nasal cannula that supplements his oxygen levels.  George had oesophageal cancer, and the chemotherapy brought pulmonary fibrosis to his lungs after his surgery. 

‘It’s not progressive,’ he says with a smile, being as positive as ever. 

He’s not as mobile as he once was, not throwing himself around the D as he once did as a Scottish hockey international.  He played into his sixties, representing Scotland in Rotterdam in the World Masters Hockey championships in 2014.  The truth is, George doesn’t know how to slow down.  He’s still involved though, now happy to manage the team.  He was still umpiring international matches only a few years ago and umpired our daughter Islay when she played for Grange.  In the background, he was President of East District Hockey, where he was a driving force for the game’s development.  He’s been a coach, administrator and mentor to many men and women.

His energy is fantastic, and he is very chatty. He hasn’t changed a bit from when, we imagine, he was a whirlwind in his business career, in Scottish Hockey (when we first knew him) and later in supporting those with cancer and defending patients’ rights. 

When we told our daughters, that we were talking to George, they wanted us to remember them to him.  And he replied generously that he has fond memories of them playing hockey. CALA’s training back then was second to none, and their teams won trophies galore for many years. Izzy and Islay were part of East age group teams that retained the indoor cup held annually at Perth.

Hearing George’s life stories, you realise that he has given his best to every situation he found himself in – sales training by world leader, Xerox, Scottish hockey, taking every coaching qualification he could, and more recently championing those with cancer.  Anything that will help someone, George gives everything.  Passion and commitment seem to be in his DNA. 

During our conversation, we eavesdrop on George’s health situation when his doctor rings.

 ‘Excuse me,’ he says, ‘I have been waiting all day for this call.’ 

Johnny and I look away from the screen, embarrassed.  But George is ‘matter of fact’ and discusses his requirements, and he and the doctor agree that the prescription can be collected later that afternoon. When George finishes his call, he excitedly tells us he has a reason to get his mobility scooter out and go down to the chemist. 

‘It goes quite fast,’ he laughs, ‘it’s a great help, and I’ve ensured it was painted in blue for Scotland.’  George never slows down!

Scotland is a running theme in George’s life, despite his father being a Londoner and meeting George’s mother in the capital during World War 2. But when an opportunity presented to return to Scotland, the young family moved to the Borders.  George was born and grew up in Hawick, rugby country.  His PE teacher was Bill MacLaren, and he played scrum half. 

‘I was ok, but I was never going to light the heather on fire,’ he says, ‘but when I was asked to play in goal at hockey, I took to it immediately.  As a scrumhalf, I was used to throwing myself at the feet of muckle forwards, so a ball floating around my head didn’t bother me much.’ 

He’d found hockey, or hockey had found him, and he never looked back.  With over 80 international caps, European championships, indoor and outdoor trophies, it was the halcyon days of Scottish hockey.  George started at the Grange and moved to what was then called the Edinburgh Civil Service, which morphed into MIM, and now Cala.  George and Chris Sutherland, a fellow Scotland and GB internationalist, started the youth section, and it has grown from strength to strength.

Sue and Johnny – Everything and Anything aim to chat with ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  And when you listen to the podcast for the next two episodes, George will show you what a ‘can do’ attitude can achieve and how he’s an inspirational figure.  Oh, and he’s a voracious reader of sci-fi, fantasy and Jack Reacher books, not so many books now but a Kindle. He highly recommends the new Reacher TV series on Prime.

            Finally, why has this man not received an honour?