Awarded an OBE for his long, distinguished service to the code, Harry Jepson has spent a lifetime in the sport of rugby league. Now in his 97th year, Harry has been instrumental in overseeing the strategic running of the sport and is a highly regarded and passionate ambassador for rugby league.
Former teacher and Deputy Headteacher Harry was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Education on Tuesday 26 July.
Speaking about receiving the award, Harry said: “Receiving this award is out of this world as far as I’m concerned. It’s something that I never even contemplated and I couldn’t believe it, but I’m delighted to be here!
Giving advice to the graduating students, Harry added: “Work hard, listen to advice from people who have experience and be prepared to develop your own instincts. One of the things you have to do if you play rugby is to play off the cuff and that true in life sometimes too.”
Enlisted at the start of the Second World War, he joined the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and then the Royal Army Service Corps, seeing active duty in North Africa and Southern Italy, before training as school teacher on his return. Harry was seconded to the famous league-playing Bewerley Street School where he came under the wing of the Headmaster there, Edgar Meeks, who was also the Hunslet Chairman.
There, his involvement in his beloved game grew and he became involved in looking after the under 11s, then the under 13s and eventually the senior side at the school, whilst also becoming Secretary of the Hunslet Schools Rugby League Association and involved in County Rugby League at that level.
His teaching took him to Cottingley Junior Mixed School and then Rodley before ending his days in education as Deputy Head at Clapgate School, also in Leeds, for the final 14 years of his professional working life.
In 1963 Harry was appointed as Secretary by Hunslet, joining Leeds in the early 70s to work as Chairman Jack Myerscough’s right hand man and fixer with initial responsibilities for the second team.
Harry was elected as one of the inaugural members of the Rugby Football League Board of Directors, which took over the strategic running of the sport from the RL Council, on which he was Leeds’s representative from 1983. He became Football Director at Leeds in the mid-1980s, using his extensive knowledge and contacts worldwide to help rebuild the side. Harry chaired the Council meeting that discussed the offer to implement Super League and was heavily involved in the formation of French club Paris St Germain, who entered the competition on its launch in 1996; his passion for French Rugby League stoked by meeting Jean Galia at Headingley in 1934 when he was an impressionable schoolboy.
Now President of Leeds Rhinos and a noted ambassador for the club and the sport, he is also Chairman of the Rugby League Conference, the competition which has spread the game throughout England, Scotland and Wales in the summer, the sides in the Premier Divisions contesting the Harry Jepson Trophy.
Leeds Beckett University Chancellor, Sir Bob Murray CBE, said: “Throughout his professional life, Harry has been a passionate advocate of education and selfless servant of the sport of rugby league. He has been instrumental in seeing the game develop - from grassroots right through to the Super League.
“As President of Leeds Rhinos, Harry is a household name throughout the rugby league world, and it is fitting that in his 97th year his significant contribution to education and the sport of rugby league is recognised with this Honorary Doctorate.”