Obituary: Jed Renilson (1960-2015_

Front to back, Jed Renilson, David Ferguson and David Laing at Kelso Swimming Pool.
Front to back, Jed Renilson, David Ferguson and David Laing at Kelso Swimming Pool.

Born 16 April 1960, Forfar

Died 27 October 2015 at home in Jedburgh

The Borders has lost one of its most passionate sons with the passing of Jed Renilson.

As the shock of the death of an ever-present character synonymous, literally, with Jedburgh, hit home, friends across the Borders, in Lancashire, Yorkshire, the Midlands, London, Wales, Ireland, Monaco and America have shared immense sadness and no little laughter.

From his days as a gung-ho sports-mad kid to recent times as he stopped people feeling sad by winding them up, the stories are legendary. Friends recall him suffering a broken leg on a skiing trip to Austria, and keeping spirits up through months in the old Peel Hospital as doctors discovered one of his legs had become longer than the other – ending all hopes of playing fly-half for Jed-Forest and Scotland - and set about pioneering surgery to get them level again. Pain and plenty scope for humour.

There are countless stories of trips with the Jedforest Instrumental Band to representing Scotland globally on the Special Olympics movement, from scooping a gardening award – only last year – to entertaining in the Hawick ‘Hut’, and the times he cherished most tightly, witnessing the ecstasy on faces of local athletes as they competed in British and world events across the globe.

Everyone will know something about Jed but few probably know the full story. In this short space we will try to provide Jed’s entry as it might have read in ‘Who’s Who’.

Born in 1960 to William and Elizabeth, he started life in Forfar (he still had shares in Forfar FC). His father had left Jedburgh for the navy and his grandparents headed to Angus, only for William and Elizabeth to return to the town of the water that inspired their eldest son’s name, when he was four.

Brother Mark had come along by then and as father took up a post as baths master at the Laidlaw Memorial Pool and his bass trombone in the town band the family quickly settled into Borders life. A pupil of Parkside and Jed Grammar, Jed was a determined character, mad about sport – particularly rugby, football and, for a while, skiing – before he followed his father both into a career at the swimming pool and the town band, with his trusty cornet.

Jed’s two marriages left him with what he felt were his greatest achievements, however – daughters Vicki and Kira. He took great pride also in the naval service of his brother Mark, and was at Portsmouth with his parents when their Chief Petty Officer returned from the Falklands, and sent him off with their support when he toured Iraq a decade later.

His own fighting qualities proved necessary when, on being diagnosed with bone cancer in 2008, Jed was told by a consultant that he might have three years left, if he was lucky. He told the medic he felt lucky. But it was a tough period. He had lost his father to cancer just three years earlier, mum was to pass away while he was in the Western General Hospital and within two years his disability sport development officer job fell victim to council cutbacks.

Jed pulled through and continued to help others. He appreciated people and saw in them talent that often they could not see in themselves, and had a unique ability to bring it out; using humour, often dark, always sharp but usually highly effective. Honesty lay at the heart of it.

He saw ways for people to use sport to realise dreams, encouraged many with learning disabilities to open their eyes and believe that they could dream; that they could be someone and play a more confident and rewarding part in society. He fought for the rights of disabled athletes, rigorously; a champion that was both headstrong and clever. Some battles he won, some he did not, but he never stopped fighting them. He was protective of his family, his privacy and his athletes, and the special relationship they had with them as a friend and mentor and encouraged athletes with disabilities to believe in themselves. Striding out into Croke Park for the Special Olympics while U2 and Bon Jovi performed, and Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali cheered, made them believe. Competing in Connecticut and Athens roared on by Bill Clinton and the Kennedys, they began to believe; picking up medals in Sheffield and being interviewed on BBC TV made them believe that they were special in a positive way.

All of those moments for Borders and Scottish performers came at the end of unstinting fundraising, knocking on doors, appeals in the media, extra training sessions and late night calls to parents, carers, wheelchair fixers and kit manufacturers.

There was much with Jed that went on in the background as he pushed the boundaries of what represented ‘100%’ or ‘ten out of ten’. He leaves a wonderful and unique legacy of inspiration and memories, which will be celebrated by mourners today encouraged to wear tartan in remembrance of a colourful man and a colourful life.

The church and Riverside Park afterwards will be packed full, as were Jed Renilson’s 55 years.

DJF