Graham Williams' fingers were so badly damaged during his rugby career he resorted to wearing his wedding ring on a string around his neck.
If ever there was an illustration of commitment to his wife (Williams was married to Sharon for 52 years) and rugby this was surely it.
Speaking at Williams' funeral yesterday Wellington Rugby Union President Brendan Gard'ner passionately asserted Williams touched every aspect of the “Wellington Rugby family.”
Gard'ner acclaimed Williams as a player, coach, administrator, referee, commentator and fan of high repute.
It was of course on the field where Williams made his greatest impact. He played a record 174 games for the province between 1964 and 1976 and was capped in five tests by the All Blacks. Additionally Williams played 15 seasons for the Wellington Axemen winning the Jubilee Cup in 1972 and 1978 and the Billy Wallace Best & Fairest award in 1967 and 1976.
Williams' extraordinary toughness separated him from his pairs and more tales of his valour have surfaced since his passing.
Williams once crashed his motorcycle on the way to an Axemen training. Despite being badly injured he quickly cleaned himself up and completed the training session. He also drove a relative to an appointment with a ripped Achilles' tendon.
In 1967 the All Blacks were playing Wales in Cardiff. Then rookie halfback Gareth Edwards was prone on the ground and vulnerable to the rucking of the rushing All Black forwards. Williams dived on Edwards and said, "I'll protect you." Williams took the brunt of the All Blacks assault. Williams then warned Edwards: “You might be able to get away from them, but you're trapped with me.”
In 1976 Keith Quinn was commentating two All Black trials at Athletic Park. The matches kicked off at 1:30pm and 3pm. Quinn asked Williams to be a fellow commentator and the latter agreed. At 11am the Wellington Axeman played a club fixture in which Williams featured. Late in proceedings, Williams sustained an injury to his left ear which required a visit to the hospital.
Williams failed to appear for the first All Black trial, leaving Quinn furious. Just as the second match was kicking off Williams scampered to the commentary position atop the steep Millard Stand with 20 wet stitches visible. He proceeded to call the entire match.
Presently the only real monument to great players at the Westpac Stadium is Aisle 13 which is named after Tana Umaga, 13 being the jersey number Umaga adjourned for most of his career.
Williams playing record alone warrants Aisle 7 being bestowed his name.
More significantly Williams impact on the whole Wellington Rugby family was immeasurable. Those who came into contact with him personally attest to his love and effectiveness in serving the game positively.
Williams was admired by many who never met him or saw him play. His example is an inspiration and lesson to others.
Williams gave generously to the Wellington Rugby family. It’s now our turn to give back.