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Mourners hear about 'saintly' Jack Kyle's fearless stand against racism

By Ivan Little

Irish rugby legend and pioneering surgeon Dr Jack Kyle has been hailed as a fearless opponent of racism and segregation in the African country that was his adopted home for over 30 years.

Former BBC Northern Ireland controller the Rev Dr Colin Morris, who became a friend of Kyle's in Zambia, told 450 mourners at a thanksgiving service for the Ireland Grand Slam winner's life that he fought for human dignity and freedom.

The 46-times capped international, who died last week at the age of 88, had a private family funeral yesterday morning.

And several hours later the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness joined past and present rugby stars like Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson, Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe in Kyle's old church, Fisherwick Presbyterian in south Belfast, to hear Dr Morris reveal details of the British and Irish Lion's largely unknown campaign against racism.

Kyle's son Caleb, who was at the service with his sister Justine, later admitted that he was unaware of much of what Dr Morris said about his late father's crusade.

Dr Morris, a former Methodist missionary, said that right from the time he settled in Zambia Jack Kyle made it clear exactly where he stood on the whole racial issue.

"Although Zambia had become independent there were still any number of sports clubs there which were hotbeds of white racism.

"They had no African members and their sports grounds were segregated," said Dr Morris.

He said the Zambian organisations were delighted that a world class sportsman like Jack Kyle had come into the area and he was inundated with requests to be their patron, but he made a public announcement saying he had no intention of having any association with any organisations that practised segregation.

Dr Morris said that the new rulers of Zambia also made life difficult for the "white authority figures" who stayed on after independence, but Zambians grew to love Jack Kyle and he loved them.

"I remember one of them saying: 'He's a white man but he's got a black heart'."

Dr Morris said Kyle helped create a nation right from the roots by 1,001 acts of service and of kindness, and what drove him in his life wasn't the rush of adrenaline at great sporting occasions, but rather an agonising sense of the desire to be humanely useful to people in need.

He also spoke of how Jack Kyle helped with the struggle against Aids after it struck Zambia in the 1980s.

One of his closest colleagues died from the disease and Dr Morris said Kyle was "beside himself" because tribal customs sent people seeking out traditional healers instead of help from hospitals.

"There was something saintly about Jack," Dr Morris said.

"I don't mean super-pious. I mean there was kind a transcendent goodness about him. I never heard him say a harsh word about anyone."

He added that Jack Kyle had a combination of grace, strength, gentility and affection that characterised him.

"Those of us who had the good fortune and the privilege to know him - and we are legion - are immeasurably impoverished that he's no longer here."

Kyle has been described as possibly the finest player to pull on an Ireland jersey, as well as having a glittering career.

Belfast Telegraph

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