David Williamson, lawyer, rugby player, referee and coach

David Williamson, who worked as an attorney for PG&E for 30 years and refereed and coached rugby at both the national and local levels, died of heart failure June 29 at the age of 71.

Williamson was born June 4, 1946, in Columbus, Ohio and moved to the California desert with his family when he was 12. He attended UC Berkeley from 1964 to 1968, earning a degree in criminology. He then headed to Hastings Law School and graduated in 1974 after a two-year detour to the Navy.

Williamson had rowed crew at Cal but it was during his second year at Hastings that he discovered rugby, a passion that would continue all his life. “As a tall, graceful, athletic man, he was a perfect second row, despite his moniker of “Bunny,” his friends on NorCal Rugby wrote when they established a scholarship in Williamson’s honor.

Williamson’s team played together for many years and changed its name as the players went out in the world. It was alternately called The Floating Rhinos, The Hastings Rhinos, and finally the HOBs (Hastings Old Boys.) The team played in England and Wales, Canada and Catalina.

“A seemingly patient quiet lawyer at work, he came alive on the Hastings Rugby team on and off the field, as a fire-eating player and a boisterous singer at the post-match parties,” his friends wrote in an article on the NorCal Rugby website. “Rugby, he declared, was a lot more fun than rowing!”

Williamson met his future wife Helen Marcus when they were both seniors at Cal volunteering as counselors at a freshman orientation program. They went out that night to celebrate Marcus’ 21st birthday and danced and drank the night away, only to discover that Marcus’ wallet with her ID was stolen while they were on the dance floor. They continued to date, interrupted only by Williamson’s stint in the Navy and Marcus’ attendance at the MBA program at Columbia University. They reunited in 1971, and a year later Williamson took up rugby. Marcus played as well, as second row for the San Francisco Women’s Rugby team. They married July 2, 1972, at the Rose Garden in San Francisco. Williamson died days before he and his wife would have celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary.

After living in San Francisco for 10 years, Williamson and Marcus moved to a house on Magnolia Street in Berkeley in 1982 and have lived there ever since. They had two sons, Marcus and Tyler, both of whom played rugby. Williamson eventually started to referee rugby at a national level and then started to coach referees one-on-one. In 2009, he switched to coaching the Berkeley Rhino Youth Rugby Club, made up primarily of Berkeley High students.

David Williamson coaching rugby. Photo: Courtesy of family

After retiring from PG&E in 2005, where he spent most of his days indoors handling environmental cases and construction litigation, Williamson decided to spend as much time as possible outdoors. He loved taking solitary hikes at Pt. Reyes and kayaking in Sausalito. With friends, he went river rafting down the Colorado, Snake and Columbia rivers. He was also a big theater fan and had held season tickets to ACT in San Francisco since 1972. Williamson and Marcus also subscribed to Berkeley Repertory Theater and the Aurora Theatre and had recently sponsored plays for each of those companies.

“Jazz music held a special place in his heart, having bought his first jazz records in high school,” according to his wife Helen. “He poured over the schedules for Yoshi’s and the SF Jazz Center and supported the Jazz School. “

Years ago Williamson wrote a memo entitled “Dave’s Demise,” where he said he did not want a memorial service. Instead, he asked there be a rock-and-roll party at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club. He also asked that his ashes be cast into the ocean on a whale-watching boat to Farallon Islands.

Donations in honor of Williamson can be made to the David Williamson Referee Scholarship Fund.