Rhys Jones leads tributes to “greatest bowler” Bryant,
- Credit: Archant
David Rhys Jones paid tribute to former bowls partner and friend of 57 years David Bryant by calling him ‘the greatest bowler the world has ever seen’ after his death at the age of 88.
The pair first met in 1963 after Rhys Jones applied for a job as a teacher in Gordano School in Portishead and following the interview, keen to find a bowling club locally, asked where the nearest club was based and was pointed in the direction of Clevedon Bowling Club.
“On my way home, having got the job, to Llanelli in South Wales I was thinking Clevedon, I know that name, isn’t that the club where the famous bowler was from?” he said.
“David Bryant was beginning to make a mark for himself at the time. He was 31 and he had just come back from Perth in Australia, having won two Commonwealth Games gold medals, one in the singles and one in the fours.
“I thought ‘I am sure his club is Clevedon, wouldn’t it be nice if I joined that club, I might play on the same green as him, same rink as him, maybe with or against him, maybe shake his hand, wouldn’t that be wonderful?’
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“I joined Clevedon and as it happened David Bryant was a member of that club and he was looking for a new partner.
“The partner he had in the pairs over the years, Roger Harris, had gone to play cricket.
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“He watched me for a while and after a few months said ‘how about pairing me in the pairs?’ which was a fantastic offer.
“It’s an offer you don’t refuse, it’s like Tiger Woods asking you to partner him for a round of golf.”
In their first year together Bryant and Rhys Jones would go on to win the 1965 Somerset, English and British pairs titles and eventually recorded 10 national titles in the 29 years they were partners.
Bryant took up the sport at the age of seven following in the footsteps of both his his father Reg, who was an England international, and his grandfather, one of the founding members of Clevedon Bowling Club.
He began playing at the local Promenade club, because his Dad’s club Clevedon was on licensed premises.
But after eventually joining Clevedon at the age of 16 in 1948 he won the club handicap singles title in his first season.
He went on to make his debut in the national championships five years later before winning his first England title in 1960.
Bryant took the English outdoor singles title six times, the indoor version nine times, the English pairs and triples three times and fours on four occasions.
More success would come in the Commonwealth Games as he won three singles titles at three successive games in 1970 in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1974 in Christchurch, New Zealand and in 1978 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and Rhys Jones said his record was ‘utterly phenomenal and will never be surpassed’.
He added: “For a relatively small town like Clevedon to produce the greatest sportman in a sport, which is huge, is really sensational.
“I was living the dream, I was learning a lot and what I found most difficult at the beginning was he was such a good sportman and every bowl you played as his partner was a good one.
“He would never criticise, I like a bit of honesty and I like to know where I could improve.
“He is simply the greatest bowler the world has ever seen and that is not just me saying that because I am biased.
“You can go anywhere in the world and ask anyone who knows anything about bowls who the greatest bowler ever is and they will all say David Bryant.”
But what made him stand out?
“He wasn’t just a great player and a great winner, he conducted himself in such a way that he was marked out as a fantatsic sportsman,” said Rhys Jones.
“He has given the measure to people following him, this is how to behave on a bowling green, people looked up to him and said ‘behave like David Bryant’.
“I often judge people on how they lose because it is easy to be sportsmanlike when you win.
“If you lose it doesn’t matter and some peeople don’t lose very well, but David Bryant would always win or lose with a smile on his face, an outstreteched hand, awell bowled, congratulations, all the best in the next round and that was David through and through.
“He was the epitome of good sportsmanship as well as being techincally, tactically and temperamentally the best bowler in the world.”
*The funeral of David Bryant CBE, Clevedon’s most famous son and the greatest lawn bowler to ever roll a wood, will take place on Friday, September 11.
The cortege will start at Pizey Avenue and process along Clevedon seafront, past the Promenade club where he started playing bowls in 1940s, as well as the famous Victorian Pier where he used to enjoy fishing.
It will then turn right and make its way through Six Ways to Christchurch, which stands on the corner of the Clevedon bowls club green.
David’s family are keen to publicise the arrangements and the route so that local people can, if they wish, come out and pay their respects to a very special man who was proud of his Clevedon and Somerset roots.
The church service is scheduled to start at Christchurch at 2.30pm and it is understood there will be a further short service at Weston Crematorium at 3.30pm, after which mourners will return to Clevedon bowls club for refreshments.