Friendships that last a lifetime are what makes being a Joeys Old Boy so special. David McDonald (1959) and Charlie Abercrombie (1958) have been buddies for over 60 years. They also have an unparalleled history of giving back to the College. 

Charlie was the First XV doctor for 35 years and David was backs coach for 19 years. To this day they are involved in mentoring the 15Fs, and David, a pharmacist, is regularly on campus delivering prescriptions to the health centre.

They are an extraordinary example of Joeys ties that bind and the deep satisfaction that comes from re-engaging with the College after graduation. They are also testimony to the rich diversity of the student body throughout the ages – Charlie originally came from Bellevue Hill, and David hails from Boggabri, a small country town in north-west NSW.

That they should meet and become good mates is proof positive of Joeys’ capacity to bring people from different backgrounds together.

In the late 1950s, David was a standout footballer, representing Joeys’ First XV three years in a row and gaining selection in the GPS Combined Representative team. Charlie, a second generation Joe-Boy [his father Jock attended in the 1920s], was a winger in the “mighty fifths” but it was the shared experience of class and dorm life that triggered their friendship.

Generosity of spirit: Charlie Abercrombie (left), pictured at the College in 1958, was the First XV doctor for 35 years and now assists in the coaching of the 15Fs with David and Br Anthony Boyd. David McDonald (right) running on to the field 1960.

“It was more the shared burden of being locked up,” Charlie jokes. “Being boarders meant you got to know boys very well and become close friends.”

“There were so many great friendships we all made,” David adds. “That’s my fondest memory of Joeys.”

Charlie says he owes a great debt to Joeys’ famous mathematics teacher Br Liguori, whom he credits with helping him earn the Commonwealth scholarship that enabled him to go to university and study medicine. Indeed both Charlie and David attended the University of Sydney – David to study pharmacy – and set up successful practices.

Charlie’s first reconnection with the College came via his practice in Gladesville. One of his business partners was looking after the Joeys infirmary and Charlie filled in on off days. In 1980, Deputy Headmaster Geoffrey Schwager invited him to become First XV doctor, a position he held, in addition to his regular duties, until 2014. The irony was that fitness trainer John Healy OAM had the team so well drilled, there were very few injuries to deal with in the early days.

“It was sports medicine at its easiest,” Charlie quips. “Those teams would remain intact right throughout the season – they were so fit and strong.”

“One of the great things about being a College coach is that you become lifelong friends with the boys you’ve coached .”

David mcdonald (1959)

Alongside him on the sideline was David, who had become First XV backs at the request of coach Br Terrence Curley in 1972. Charlie was David’s family doctor. They worked together as Joeys recorded 11 premierships during David’s tenure as backs coach, which ended in 1990.

“We have great respect for each other – we shared the joys and the wins and the significant losses,” Charlie says.

“Charlie is a genuine, all-round good guy,” David adds.

Recently, they were present at The Park to watch the First XV trounce Newington 32–15. At half-time, good friend Br Anthony Boyd escorted them from their seats to see a “new commemorative plaque” on the inside of the picket fence. 

Only there was no such thing. On cue, hundreds of Joeys boys began singing Happy Birthday to David and Charlie, who had both just turned 80.

“Tony Boyd set us up!” Charlie laughs.

Outstanding service: A brilliant footballer, David McDonald represented Joeys’ First XV three years in a row and then returned to College as backs coach for 19 years, including 11 premierships.

“I’ll never get over that,” David says. “I was stunned. It was overwhelming to have so many boys singing for you.”

Br Anthony’s cunning plan/kind gesture was a mark of the high esteem in which both Charlie and David are held at the College.

Apart from helping out the 15Fs, who have had a stellar season, David and Charlie also maintain connection to the College through regular reunions at the Royal Hotel in Randwick on the first Monday of every second month. But it’s not just get-togethers with their contemporaries that keep them associated with Joeys.

“One of the great things about being a coach at the College is that you become friends with the boys you’ve coached,” David says. “It’s wonderful. For example, later this year I’m going to a reunion of the 1981 premiership-winning side.”

Both men also feel great reverence for the Brothers who taught them and the enduring friendships that followed.

As their College affiliation stretches into a seventh decade, they can point to a life broadened and enriched by Joeys.

“It’s been a terribly important part of my life, and I am privileged to still be involved,” Charlie says. “The atmosphere is encouraging for everyone – even for old codgers like us!”

David agrees.

“The affiliation with so many Old Boys – even ones who aren’t necessarily in your year – is great. There really is a tremendous loyalty to the school and each other.”

Long may it continue to be so.