Don Whidden passed away peacefully on February 3rd. He was surrounded by his family, Barbara, Michael, Ashley, Megan and John.
Don is well known in the Canadian rugby community through his various roles including managing the Canadian Senior Men’s Team for many tours and World Cups. He also managed the Canada Men’s U23 Pacific Pride program. He was well-liked and admired by those he came into contact with.
Don was a very active member of the Edmonton Referee Society for many years. In 2006 he was trained by the IRB as a Citing Commissioner and thus added that match official role to his accreditation and committed his time to perform this role in the Canadian Rugby Championship program. He has served as a Referee Coach for a number of years. On many occasions, Trevor Arnold, Rugby Canada’s Manager of High-Performance Match Officials called upon Don to work with him to develop some of our high-performance referees.
Trevor Arnold established The Match Officials Fund within the Canadian Rugby Foundation in July of 2011. The fund was to provide recognition for all Match Officials (referees, referee coaches, citing commissioners, and judicial officers). Don came on board and helped Trevor build the new fund through fundraising initiatives.
The Canadian Rugby Foundation has asked permission of the Whidden family and Trevor Arnold to rename the fund, The Don Whidden Memorial Match Officials Fund in memory of Don’s role in Canadian rugby and especially his interest in officiating. The Whidden family has responded that “they are honoured by this and are 1000% behind this official fund”. Trevor has likewise indicated his support in naming the award (or the annual Rugby Canada Award) in Don’s memory. – by Michael Bull
Contributions to the Don Whidden Memorial Match Officials Fund can be made through the Canadian Rugby Foundation either online (www.canadianrugbyfoundation.ca) or by mailing contributions to:
Canadian Rugby Foundation
709 Yates St.
PO Box 8003
Contributions of over $25.00 will receive a charitable tax receipt.
Tributes to Don Whidden from the Rugby Community:
From Trevor Arnold
I first met Don in Rockhampton, Australia in the late 1990s when he was managing the national team on tour. I was asked by the Australian Rugby Union to be what is now referred to as the Match Commissioner for the Canada v Queensland A side fixture that was played in Rockhampton during that tour and Don was the focal point of my dealings with that team (coached by Pat Parfrey).
Don is a former President of the Edmonton Rugby Union and was able to give me an intimate knowledge of the Alberta Rugby scene as well as help me to identify the leading personnel who were developing rugby in the province. I called upon him on many occasions to identify specific personnel and to give me an understanding of the history of specific developments in Alberta Rugby in order for me to understand the cultural framework I had to work within in that Province.
Don has officiated as a referee in more games in Alberta than any other referee throughout history. He was an extremely proficient and law knowledgeable referee who officiated at all levels of Alberta rugby.
When Don’s refereeing was approaching an end he gained IRB accreditation as a Referee Coach. He became a very supportive coach of young referees and was a person I called upon to identify those in Alberta with the potential to become high-performance referees as he had an understanding of the characteristics such a person had to possess. Over the past eight years in particular he contributed greatly to the development of referees in Alberta and at times (despite his lack of officiating experience at a high level) I called upon him to assist me with undertaking performance reviews and coaching some of Canada’s high-performance referees.
Because his refereeing was coming to an end and he wished to remain involved he also gained IRB Match Official Educator accreditation and became my focal point for the education of referees in that Province. He maintained a meticulous database of referees, their accreditation as well as their progress towards re-accreditation when it was required because of time limitations on the accreditation process. His database was indisputably the most meticulous of all the provinces in Canada.
In order to broaden his input in officiating in 2006, Don gained his IRB Citing Commissioner accreditation. As an outcome, I relied heavily upon Don to be a Citing Commissioner for all CRC games played in Edmonton and Calgary.
When I established the Foundation fund for Match Officials I decided to initiate the program by myself in order to show that it could be done. After twelve months it was time to call upon others for support. I immediately called upon Don as I knew he was reliable and enthusiastic about supporting referees and he became a key person to assist me in further developing the fundraising process.
From the NACRA website
Don Whidden, Canada’s “Grandfather of Ref Coaching” Passes Away.
Don Whidden, one of Canada’s longest-serving and most respected coaches of match officials, passed away on the evening of Monday, February 3rd, with his family by his side.
Don spent decades developing referees from across Canada, the USA, and beyond. His influence was most felt in his home province of Alberta, which produced a steady series of top national officials. He contributed to Rugby in many other ways, including acting as Team Canada’s Manager for 15 years, including several Rugby World Cups.
Don was my first ref assessor 27 years ago. I had never met him before, but his kindly and dignified nature made it easy to like him, and the quality of his feedback was obvious. As I got to know more about him over the years I realized how fortunate I had been to receive his guidance, even briefly.
In the week since Don passed away, I have received a large number of dedications and stories about Don, with requests to feature them on the Info Page. But among many of those messages, there was a common refrain: words are not enough to recognize Don’s character and contributions.
I can’t include all of the messages that I’ve received, but I can offer the abridged version of a message from Bryan Arciero, one of Canada’s leading referees. Hopefully, this will help introduce Don to those that never had the privilege of meeting him, and trigger some fond memories for those that did know him.
From Bryan Arciero:
“I first met Don in 2005, when I was out in Calgary for the summer for a couple of weeks before starting a career in oil and gas. Back when Rugby Canada had adopted this odd system of grading called a MOD-score, which basically meant that anytime you farted, someone wrote it down. Cue Don, with his giant hand, and chicken-scratchings for words, to write reams and reams of notes for a game that only takes 80 minutes but, based on his notes, felt like he was documenting the Battle of Gettysburg. In any case, we all finished the game in one piece (though the Irish lost to the Canucks 51-7). Whidden’s report aka the “Omnibus of Refereeing, Volume I” was delivered, and I briefly considered throwing it in (I apologize to the Ontario Blues for not going through with my decision!).
Cue a few years later, when upgraded from Peon to Focus Group, I was back in Edmonton (working full time), refereeing in former RCSL, and Whidden is again the Whatever-the-heck-they-called-it for an Assessor (I think Doc Arnold had finally convinced Rugby Canada we needed coaching and not assessing, but I digress). And now he writes “I would very much look forward to spending more time with Bryan in action in the future.” I took that in the same way a Doctor wants to work on a patient with a rare condition that might be curable!
He got his wish; I was in Edmonton for 3 more years when I wasn’t racking up air miles across the globe, often exchanging a ride in Don’s DMW (what a license plate) for a bottle of Malbec, or Australian Syrah, or South African Biltong depending on where I was coming from.
One of the best moments with Don was when, due to a late pull-out by Greg Williams, kitted up as Number 6 for the RWC Qualifier in Edmonton. With a Red card to Emerick and a couple of yellows, Don was elbow-deep in paperwork and loving every minute of it. Those knees hadn’t seen the light of day since the 1970s!
There are too many stories of Don’s over the years that I’ve forgotten most of them. Whether it was the perils of Combi driving in South Africa, the judicial hearings in London for RWC 1999, or the work with the Off-Ice NHL officials; all of Don’s stories are memorable, funny, and display his clever wit. It’s also clear that, like now, Barbara has been by his side the whole time. I remember Barbara describing to me the aftermath of RWC 2003 in Australia, when, after the effects of being team manager had taken their toll, it was time to hand over the reins and let Barbara sort out the post-tournament activities.
In the relatively short time I’ve known Don, he has been such a huge influence on my development as a referee, and more importantly as a person. He’s made me go back and rethink things that I thought were clear and obvious but needed a bit more “refinement” in my refereeing (and in the way my unrefined self rubbed off on the people of Wild Rose country). He also showed me that hard work pays off, no matter how many obstacles you have in your way.
Hugs and condolences to all of you, and, as Don would say: “Best Regards.”
USE THE FORM BELOW TO DONATE TO THE DON WHIDDEN MEMORIAL MATCH OFFICIALS FUND: