The Queensland Rugby League would like to send its deepest condolences to the family and friends of highly-regarded referees’ coach Richard Johnston OAM, who has passed away aged 77.

A former State League referee, Johnston made a seamless transition into the coaching and education field, where he was instrumental in the development of Queensland’s leading referees for more than 25 years.

Throughout his rugby league journey, the former school teacher touched the lives of many and made life-long friends, including Toowoomba’s Rex Little.  

“There are plenty of people named Richie in rugby league, but in refereeing circles, when you mentioned "Richie", people instantly knew who you were talking about,” Little said.

“He lived and breathed refereeing, wrote the majority of the National Refereeing Accreditation Scheme (with Mick Stone and Peter Corcoran), coached and lectured brilliantly with a special wit and shaped the lives of thousands who came into contact with him.

“He used to say ‘I may not make you a better referee, but I will make you a better person’.

“That was very true, but many of his charges made it to the very top of the ranks. Many people enjoy richer lives for having known him.”

Johnston’s love of the game and his passion for assisting others took him all over Queensland in his role as the inaugural QRL Referees’ Development Manager.

The newly-created position in 1992 raised some eyebrows, but it didn’t take long for Johnston to win over the doubters as he managed everything from State League coaching to QRL carnivals and development.

In 2003, Johnston commenced a new role with the QRL’s South East Queensland and Wide Bay Divisions.

While he retired from the QRL in 2009, Johnston was never lost to the game. Right up until his sudden passing on Tuesday, Johnston spent time mentoring young match officials from the Sunshine Coast/Gympie Referees Association.

He travelled regularly to Papua New Guinea to assist with the coaching and education of the country’s referees.

While refereeing was his passion, his real love was family. In the words of close friend Little, Johnston “absolutely adored” wife Lesley, his daughters Amanda and Sally and grandsons Harrison, Tom and George.

The referees are now rallying behind their own – with online tributes flowing from those he mentored (see below).

Long-time QRL colleague John Topp said it was Johnston’s ability to “hold an audience” that made him such an influential person.

He will remain a much-admired figure in many regional communities, including Hughenden where the State School’s sporting oval is named after the former teacher.

While he enjoyed life’s simple pleasures like a can of Coke and chocolate Mars bar – his regular intake while evaluating referees on game day – Johnston was an astute operator and a pioneer for the referees.

He led the push for greater coaching and development resources, two key improvements supported by the establishment of the QRL Referees’ Board in 1992.

Johnston worked closely with another father figure of the refereeing fraternity in the late Nick Euclid OAM, the former Chairman of the Referees’ Board.

Together they helped shape the groundwork for the future of the state’s match officials, which now thrive under the guidance of QRL High Performance Referees’ Manager Eddie Ward.  

Johnston served on numerous other committees and boards, leaving a proud legacy which is celebrated annually by the referees through the presentation of the Richard Johnston Volunteer Award.

Belinda Sleeman

A heart of gold has stopped beating, and two shining eyes are now at rest. The most influential person in my refereeing career and my life.

Sunshine Coast/Gympie Referees Association

Today the world of rugby league has lost a true gentleman. Richard Johnston, a man who loved and breathed the Greatest Game of All, rugby league. You helped many of us on the Sunshine Coast and you have inspired many who have crossed your path.

Service Details

The service for the late Richard Johnston will be held on Tuesday, April 11, at 1pm at Gregson & Weight Chapel, 139-159 Wises Road, Buderim on the Sunshine Coast.

Those attending are encouraged to dress in their favourite rugby league colours.

Following the service and refreshments at Gregson & Weight Chapel, please join us next door from 3.30pm at Maroochydore Junior Rugby League Club, Wises Road for a celebration of his life.

Those who wish to share memories of Richie are encouraged to do so at the Club House.