‘Hero’ Wales rugby player, surgeon and teacher Brian Rees dies as Jamie Roberts leads tribute

The much-loved Welsh rugby player and surgeon Brian Rees has died at the age of 79.

The former whore, who won three internationals for his country during the 1967 Five Nations Championship and went on to become a prominent surgeon, died on December 29th.

Born in Neath, Rees pursued a medical career in Cambridge, where he also performed for Light Blues against New Zealand and Australia.

He played in four Varsity matches against Oxford, winning one, drawing one and losing two between 1963 and 1966.

Rees’ three internationals came a year later, against Scotland, Ireland and France. His last match, in Colombes, was the first of 53 for the great Gareth Edwards.

He then went on an unfinished Wales trip to Argentina in 1968, before being invited to join the squad on tour in New Zealand as a compensation. But he had to turn down the offer as he was completing his studies at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.

After also having a stay with London Welsh during the early endings of the club’s heyday, Rees eventually returned to Wales to work and took up a position as general surgeon at the University Hospital of Wales.

He became the leading cancer clinician in 2000, the same year he was awarded an OBE for his services to medicine, and held the position until 2006.

When he arrived in the Welsh capital, he immediately threw his support behind Cardiff Medics students.

He never represented the team when he was trained in London, even though you would have been forgiven for thinking he did. Rees became the patron, president and later a lifelong vice president of the club, helping in every way possible and was a firm face on the sidelines of matches.

“You could not know Brian without having a personal relationship,” Huw Davies, who has coached Cardiff Medics for 27 years and has known Rees since taking on the role, told WalesOnline.

“Everyone who spent time with him felt privileged, he just had that gravitas, that amazing presence. You knew he was in the room as soon as he came in.

“There are very few people like that in life.

“He was one of those heroes as a boy. We’ve had a couple of them at the club – Dr Jack Matthews before him and Jamie Roberts since.

Brian Rees, former Wales international and prominent surgeon

“Everyone loved Brian. The great thing about the tributes is how different they are. He could communicate with everyone and leave an incredible impression on them.

“All the boys wanted to work at his company and do a job with him because he had a great reputation.

“He was a tough taskmaster in everything he did. He had demanding standards in terms of punctuality, how they looked, how they spoke to patients.

“He wanted everyone to be great ambassadors for medicine and rugby. He led from the front.

“When he was at medical or social events, everyone wanted to talk to him, and he had time to talk to everyone. He talked to you as if you were the most important person in the room. It’s a rare gift.”

Rees also established a unit for teaching skills in surgery and laparoscopic techniques, which is used by many disciplines within the medical world.

The unit, called the Welsh Institute of Minimal Access Therapy, is recognized as being among the best training units in the country.

In 2008, he became senior sheriff of South Glamorgan and also served as a trustee on the board of the Welsh Rugby Charitable Trust, serving as chairman in recent years.

Brian Rees with Dr. Ian Harries and Dr. Huw Charles, All Vice Presidents of Cardiff Medics RFC

“I’m not a doctor, I work with medicine, but all the doctors say his ward round was legendary because he wanted to lift the team and uplift patients who very often stood at the door of death,” Davies added.

“He’s just got his mood up. We might play in the Welsh Cup somewhere like Glyncoch and he would sneak along the sidelines and encourage the boys.

“He had that energy and he was just a great leader.

“We almost saw him as indestructible.

“Even though he’s been sick for a number of years, it was a bit of a shock because he’s one of those people you thought would be here forever.

“He was one of a kind.”

Tributes to Rees, from both the rugby and medicine worlds, poured in on social media.

Wales international Jamie Roberts, who also studied medicine at Cambridge, said: “A wonderful man, such sad news.”

Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Davies added: “RIP Brian Rees. What an absolute legend. You will be greatly missed. Hello friend.”

Geoff Davies, Wales’s team doctor, wrote: “A real pleasure to have known such a lovely man and true Cardiff Meds RFC legend.”

“Very very sad to hear this,” @DrGeraintPreest wrote on Twitter. “I remember taking care of his patients when I was doing pediatric surgery and in the regular surgical wards as a housekeeper. I took care of both his team and his patients and a great teacher.”

@simonmdjones added: “Very sad news. When I was chairman of the Cardiff and Vale Trust, I always knew I would get a challenge from Brian, but he always had his patients’ best interests at heart. And always fun to be in his company. “

And BBC Business Correspondent Huw Thomas shared: “Very sad to hear this. He was a lovely man and an extremely talented surgeon who saved my life when I was very young. A hero to so many children like me.”


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