Queensland Maroons heroes Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin, Adrian Lam and Michael Hagan were among those to deliver glowing tributes, following the death of Brisbane Junior Rugby League legend Don Duncan.
Duncan passed away at age 89 from declining health after suffering a stroke in 2019. He lived a full and accomplished life, highlighted by 35 years of service to the Wests Mitchelton Panthers, including a 20-year stint as president from 1980-2000.
One of the first players he coached in the late 1960s was a young Vautin, who later achieved acclaim as captain and coach of the Queensland State of Origin team.
“Don Duncan was a great man … a man amongst men,” Vautin said, adding that he played in the same team as Duncan’s second son Neale.
“I had him in Under 9s, Under 10s and I think Under 11s too. Don treated everybody the same, like we were all his sons.
“He was always giving sound advice, never raised his voice and was always cool, calm and controlled.
“Win or lose, he always told us he was proud of us and that there’d be a game next week.
“Later as president, he mowed the grass, he put the corner posts in, he poured beers at the bar, he chalked the white lines up and down the field, he served hot dogs in the canteen. He did everything he could.”
Vautin gave special mention to Don’s partnership with wife Merle – “a great couple” – and the support he was given over his many years of service at the Panthers.
Vautin kept in touch with Duncan until his final months, visiting Don and Merle at Maranatha Retirement Village, the same facility where Vautin’s mother Leila was also cared for.
Adrian Lam, Vautin’s on-field general during the stunning 1995 Maroon clean sweep, was another player who came under Duncan’s tutelage in his formative years.
Now head coach of English heavyweight club Wigan, Lam said he had been “deeply saddened” to learn of his former mentor’s passing.
“My love, thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time,” Lam said.
“Don was one of the best. He was an inspiration to myself and all of the kids and players who pulled on the Panthers jersey.
“He selflessly dedicated his time year-after-year with his leadership and influence, which helped build and shape our great club to where it is today.
“Don touched the lives of many and made a positive impact with all those who he came into contact with, including myself and my family.
“He will be greatly missed and he leaves behind a lasting legacy that will never be forgotten.”
Former Maroons coach and player Hagan, whose father Tom was stationmaster at the adjacent Mitchelton railway station, grew up as a schoolmate of Duncan’s youngest son Gavin.
“Don was one of Mitchy’s greatest clubmen. I wish Gavin and family our sincerest condolences,” Hagan said.
Numerous additional tributes were tendered to Wests Mitchelton by players, volunteers and members who benefited from Duncan’s stewardship, including from the Berrigan family.
Both Shaun and Barry Berrigan played at the club during Duncan’s presidency, while their late father volunteered alongside Duncan in the same period.
Son Gavin Duncan, who later played in BRL senior grand finals for Wests in 1991-92, said his childhood was flooded with memories of tagging along with his father as he tended the fields and facilities at Wests Mitchelton.
“We were as thick as thieves,” Gavin said of his dad.
“Dad was a peacemaker and somebody that everyone respected. I never ran into anybody who had a bad word to say about him.
“I’ve got quite a few memories of when I was playing, dad was coaching and my eldest brother Trevor was the referee.”
Daughter Denise Stevenson delivered a stirring eulogy at Don’s funeral on June 5, and revealed her father had his own successful football career after being initially raised at Hazeldean, between Kilcoy and Somerset Dam.
Duncan had grown up on a dairy farm and helped keep the farm going after the early death of his own father, before eventually deciding to relocate to Enoggera for 42 years of his life.
“In his youth Dad had played football for Kilcoy and competed in the South Burnett, Stanley Rivers and Lockyer Valley competitions,” Denise, who was also a former member of Wests Mitchelton’s cheer squad, said.
“During his career he won two grand finals and played in the grand final team seven times.
“The highlight of his career was captaining the Lockyer Valley representative team in a curtain-raiser to Great Britain match that was played at Ipswich.
“Dad loved the years that followed at Wests Mitchelton. He took great pride in the achievements of all the players who came through the club.”
A worker for many years at the Roma Street Markets and Rocklea Markets, Duncan enjoyed a sea change with Merle at the end of his presidency, moving to the Sunshine Coast for 16 years before becoming an aged care resident.
He was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 for services to junior rugby league, presented with the honour by former Lord Mayor Jim Soorley.
Wests Mitchelton has made a submission to council to name the main field at their home ground the Don Duncan Field, while retaining the name Frank Lind Oval to describe their entire home complex.