Roy Roper, a former All Black, sadly passed away mere weeks after commemorating his 100th birthday in New Plymouth. He held the notable distinction of being the first former All Black to witness a century of life, an occasion he celebrated grandly on August 11. His death was confirmed by one of his sons, Guy Roper.
In paying tribute to his father, Guy Roper said, “He made it to 100 years. A little bit of that time he spent as an All Black. But he spent a lot more of his time helping his family, friends and community.” Indeeded, Roper’s legacy extends beyond his sporting career, touching on a life lived in profound service to those around him.
Roper’s All Black career spanned the years 1949 and 1950. However, he also left indelible marks off the rugby field. He often expressed his sense of enjoyment being part of a team and rising to the occasion. Reflecting on his All Black career, Roper humorously commented on the period in the rugby’s staunchly amateur era, “I don’t think I got a razoo out of the rugby union,” a reference to the notably low earnings associated with the sport at the time.
Roper’s contribution to New Zealand rugby was not limited to domestic games. His100th birthday came 74 years after his debut in the second test against the touring 1949 Wallabies. Despite politics and controversy marring the match, Roper delivered a stellar performance, evidence of his commitment and passion for the game.
Roper’s life also boasts a number of intriguing experiences, including the bizarre circumstance of playing in an Australian jersey due to player shortage. Additionally, his wartime military service allowed him many unique adventures, including a journey on the Queen Mary with thousands of American troops and performing sentry duties outside the lodgings of Sir Winston Churchill.
Despite being past his playing days, Roper’s love for rugby never waned. Memory of his own playing days were his source of joy as failing vision robbed him of the opportunity to watch current games. On his role as a former All Black, he quipped, “It’s your first jersey, you don’t throw those away unless you have to,” speaking volumes about his fondness for the game.
At the age of 26, practical considerations led to his retirement from the All Black. He switched gears to building a life for his family and cementing his legacy beyond the rugby field. Roper’s impact on the game was not forgotten, as he was immortalised in trading cards and earned the respect of fellow All Blacks player Bob Scott, who admired Roper’s “power of acceleration” and wished he had stayed on the team longer.
Nearing the end of his life, Roper enjoyed listening to rugby games on the radio, although, by his own admission he often fell asleep in the middle of matches. He found joy in returning to his hometown of New Plymouth and giving back to his community. His legacy is as much off the field as it was on, given his significant contributions to Taranaki sporting royalty and his untiring service to others. His secret to longevity, he modestly attributed to a bit of luck, a solid work ethic, and the happiness he derived from his involvement in various associations. Through a life impeccably lived, Roy Roper truly earned his place in the hearts of his family, friends, community and the larger New Zealand rugby fraternity.