Dr. Peter Jones

Peter Jones was born in Palmerston North, New Zealand and, like most young boys growing up in New Zealand, rugby became an important part of his life even at this early age.  He began playing rugby in 1950 at the tender age of 10. This began an almost 65 year involvement with rugby in numerous capacities. He played throughout grade school, middle school, and high school and, while in high school, he progressed from the third, to the second, and ultimately, in 1957, to the first 15.

In 1958, he began his studies in chemistry and biochemistry at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and continued to play rugby there for the next four years, while completing his undergraduate studies and a master’s degree in biochemistry.

Moving to the United States in 1963 to pursue graduate studies in biochemistry at Duke University, Peter assumed that his rugby days were behind him.  But it was not to be.  Within days of starting grad school at Duke, he was “recruited” to play for the recently formed Duke University rugby team.  For most of the next three years, Peter found himself playing, helping to coach, and teaching the finer points of the game to his fellow Duke players. His first match with Duke was against the University of Virginia at Sweetbriar College, Lynchberg, VA in the fall of 1963.  At that time there was essentially no rugby south of NC and games were played against teams from Richmond, VA., Washington, D.C., Norfolk, VA, and Philadelphia, PA.

In 1968 Peter relocated to Tucson, AZ for post-doctoral research at the University of Arizona Medical School and attended the first rugby practice held at the University of Arizona in the fall of 1968.  However, he chose not to be involved with rugby in any capacity at this stage of his career.

In 1969, Peter returned his alma mater, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand until he was recruited in 1972 to teach Biochemistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, TN.

While in graduate school at Duke, Peter met and married his sweetheart Dale who has been at his side ever since. They raised three children in Memphis while Peter excelled as a professor at the University of Tennessee and with the sport of rugby.

While sitting in his office one afternoon in the spring of 1972, Dr. Phil Whyatt stepped in and asked Peter to referee a match at the upcoming Cotton Carnival Rugby tournament at Overton Park.  The new sport of rugby was growing in Memphis and the sport was badly in need of someone who understood the rules and proper flow of the game.  Thus was the start of a great and fruitful career for Dr. Peter Jones as a rugby referee in Memphis, the Southeastern US, and in many parts of the US.

Peter refereed from 1972 to 2000, officially retiring his whistle at the age of 60.  He refereed primarily but not exclusively in the Southeastern US and attended many tournaments all over the region. During this time Peter participated in many firsts in the sport of rugby in the US and rose to the highest levels of refereeing available.  Here is a list of some of Peter’s accomplishments:

  • 1976 – Refereed the first known inter-territorial rugby match played in the US between the Midwest RFU and Western RFU in Des Moines, Iowa
  • 1976 – Assistant referee and alternate referee for the match between the USA Eagles and France in Chicago
  • 1977 – Refereed the second annual Eastern Rugby Union North-South match in Atlanta, GA and was the first ERU referee to call this match
  • 1978 – Appointed to the first “A” panel in the US and was one of 5 referees designated as A-2
  • 1979 – Refereed the first National Club Championship Final between Old Blue Berkeley) and the St. Louis Falcons in Kansas City, MO
  • 1980 – Refereed the first National Collegiate Rugby Champion Final between the Naval Academy and the University of California, Berkley in Davenport, Iowa
  • 1981 – Refereed the match between the South African Springboks and the ERU Colonials in Albany, NY
  • 1984 – Refereed one of the first women’s National Club Championship Finals between Beantown (Boston) and Florida State University in Chicago, ILL

*Peter is the only referee to have called a National Men’s Club final, a National Women’s Club final and a National Collegiate Final.

He was critical to the development of rugby refereeing in the USA.

  • Formed the Mid-South Rugby Referees Society in 1978
  • Member of the Eastern Rugby Union referee panel
  • Secretary of the USARFU Referee and Laws Committee
  • Member of the Eastern Rugby Union Referee Association
  • National referee evaluator

Peter loved the sport of Rugby and his role as the referee.  He mentored many of the better referees in the south and personally started several on the path to refereeing including Jerry McLemore (A panel), Steve Leaman (B-Panel), Rick Bolton, Rick Cole and many others.

Asked why Peter stayed with the sport of rugby, he stated, “The people… the coaches, the players, other referees, and the administrators.  The people involved in the game of rugby in the US are what make this game so good.  They’re a fine bunch for the most part.  I enjoy the camaraderie of the sport. I like to help people new to the game understand it.”

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