Rugby great Norman Hadley was known as ‘gentle giant’

Former Canadian captain Norman Hadley of Victoria was a six-foot-seven, 297-pound colossus, who dominated on rugby pitches and in banking boardrooms around the world.

“He was a larger than life figure and is close to the top of my list of greatest Canadian players,” said Gary Johnston, who coached Hadley at Oak Bay High, with the James Bay Athletic Association and on the national team.

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Hadley, who played the lock position and helped lead Canada to the 1991 World Cup quarter-finals, died over the weekend at age 51 in a Tokyo hotel room of an apparent heart attack. During the past in his banking career, Hadley had been managing director of Deutsche Bank in Tokyo.

“He was my gentle giant,” said mother Anita Hadley, who resides in James Bay.

“He was very tough-minded when he had to be playing the game and in business, but he had such a gentle side and was so loving, tender and brilliant.”

Anita Hadley said the family hopes to have a service in Victoria at Christ Church Cathedral when details can be arranged.

“We are in close contact with the embassy and consulate [regarding the body],” she added.

Hadley was capped 15 times when Test matches were a big deal and not as plentiful as they are now, and captained Canada on five occasions in 1992 and 1993, during a national-team career from 1987 to 1994. He was one of the first players to turn pro during the open era and played for London Wasps and Bedford Blues as one of the highest-paid players of his time. Hadley was named to play for the Barbarians select side five times.

“Rugby was such a big part of Norman’s life for so many years, and then international banking became his life,” said mom Anita.

Hadley earned his bachelor of economics degree from the University of Victoria followed by his MBA at UBC. He also attended the London School of Economics for a time before turning to a banking career that included working for Barclays, Deutsche Bank and as a London-based bond broker for a New York brokerage firm.

Johnston remembers recruiting a strapping but uncertain and gangly teenager into Oak Bay rugby in Grade 9.

“He couldn’t get a hold on the ball. I taught him how to juggle and he always said that helped him learn how to handle the ball.”

Hadley never forgot the people who pushed him along in the game and always paid it forward.

“If you needed anything, he was one of those go-to guys. This is a sad day for the JBAA family. Norm was loud and with a big laugh. He could fill a room.”

Inducted into the Oak Bay High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, Hadley had also been a television analyst on the weekly BBC show Rugby Special.

Hadley is survived by his daughter Madison, mother Anita, father Michael, brother David and sisters Pauline and Michele.

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