Doug McLaggan, Squash Pro For 49 Years, Dies At Age 85   
By Rob Dinerman

May 4, 2007 -
We have recently learned of the death on April 27th of William D. (Doug) McLaggan, 85, at the Haven Health Care facility in Rutland, VT, not far from Arlington, his home since 2002. Remarkably, the Scottish-born McLaggan worked as a squash professional for 49 years, beginning in his native Edinburgh, where at age 15 he started as an apprentice to the noted head pro Jerry Varnes in the afternoons when school let out, and ending with his retirement from the University Club of New York in the spring of 1985.

   After serving as a British Royal Marine Commando during World War II, McLaggan spent two years at the Cornish Riviera Club before returning to the Edinburgh Sports Club from 1948-52. He then moved to North America, where he was the head pro at the Montreal Badminton & Squash Club from 1952-60; at Racquet & Tennis in New York from 1960-67; at the Denver Club from 1967-73; at the University Club of Chicago from 1973-75; back to R & T from 1975-77; and finally at the University Club of New York from 1977-85.

    At each of these venues, he transformed the character of the squash program with his work ethic, patient good humor and absolute professionalism. McLaggan carried himself with the quiet but unmistakable confidence of the world-class person and player that he was. Unfailingly polite, as pros of that era tended to be, he was, however, never obsequious; there was never any question who was in charge of the pro shop or squash area, and when giving a lesson, he was all business, eschewing the condescension of a “customer’s game” and giving the member the respect of assuming that the latter was genuinely seeking to improve his game.

  McLaggan was old-school in the best sense of the term, with a Cal Ripken-like aversion to missing a day of work (even when he was under the weather) and a fierce dedication to maximizing the squash experience of any member, regardless of playing level, who was under his charge. He became a mentor to numerous aspiring pros, most notably Jim McQueenie, who later became President of the North American Pro Squash Racquets Association (NAPSRA) before it became the World Pro Squash Association, and his own son Ian, who became a squash pro as well, and who survives Doug, as does another son, Brian; three daughters, Shelagh, Judith and June; his wife, Edith; 11 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

  McLaggan’s competitive playing career mirrors his coaching legacy in its quality and especially its longevity, a phenomenon best symbolized for his advance to the final round of the NAPSRA annual championship both in 1953 (where he dropped a fifth-game tiebreaker to John Warzycki in Milwaukee) and FOURTEEN years later, when at age 46 (!) he came up just short in a close four-game battle against the much-younger Mohibullah Khan in the 1967 final at the New York Athletic Club. It is instructive to note that during the first several decades of McLaggan’s North American tenure the tournaments were almost completely “closed” to pros, who were pretty much barred from almost all of the invitationals and were therefore limited to a very few predominantly low-purse events, most of which were dominated throughout that time by the Khan clan and the Egyptian star Mahmoud Kerim.

   In spite of these severe barriers, McLaggan fared well in the events he was allowed to enter, reaching the semis of the first U. S. Open in 1954 (where his match against Hashim Khan was covered by Life Magazine, which features several photos of that match taken from a camera installed in the tin at the front wall), winning the New York Metropolitan Open on several occasions and receiving a plaque from his Montreal membership acknowledging his tournament-winning accomplishments in the U. S. Pro Doubles and the Canadian Open and Canadian Pro singles during his inaugural 1952-53 season. Prior to his move to North America, McLaggan had attained a No. 2 U. K. ranking and had earned the right to challenge reigning British Pro champion A. E. Biddle for that title, but he was forced to make his move to Montreal before that match could be played.

  McLaggan’s playing style was controlled and canny, a reflection of his off-court persona as well. He had a slow sidewall-front-wall shot, an expert adaptation of the softball working boast into the hardball game. Especially on his forehand flank, he was so difficult to read that his opponents would start leaning and even moving in anticipation of a forehand drive, only to have to frantically reverse direction and attempt to track down McLaggan’s trickling roll-corner. At one point, the Racquet & Tennis Club had three top-21 ranked players (’65 National champion Steve Vehslage, Pete Bostwick and Bart McGuire) and McLaggan would beat them back to back to back in one continuous late-afternoon foray.

   Even in the early 1980’s, by which time he was in his early 60’s and his knees (each of which had by then undergone multiple surgeries) were giving out, McLaggan managed to rally from two games to love down and out-last the vaunted and decade-younger age-group champion Charlie Ufford in the final round of the 50-and-over Eastern State Veterans event at the Yale Club, whose members had initially been reluctant to invite a pro to play in what had heretofore been an amateurs-only event. However, they were so enthralled by the intricacies of the exchanges, the impeccable fairness and sportsmanship that prevailed throughout between these two brainy standouts and the drama of McLaggan’s comeback effort, that the club’s attitudes were permanently changed for the better in one instructive Sunday afternoon.

    In his own quiet way, McLaggan influenced other important improvements in the playing environment as well with his stature and passion for justice. As one example, when the USSRA produced what were clearly poorly-done tentative rankings at the end of the 1978-79 season, and it was subsequently learned that the committee had not followed the proper guidelines, the New York regional association, led by its activist president, the late Ames Brown, formed a special MSRA National Ranking Committee in what could be construed as something of an act of defiance that produced its own significantly-better rankings. The presence on that latter Committee of McLaggan, as well as Bostwick, effectively shamed the USSRA into acknowledging the superiority of those MSRA national rankings and performing a much-needed reconstruction of the USSRA ranking committee that resulted in a prompt implementation of a ranking system that represented a major improvement over what had preceded it.

   For the dignity with which he comported himself, for the impact he had on those whom he worked for, worked with and coached, and for everything that he represented so well for so long, Doug McLaggan deserves to forever be remembered as a universally respected leading light of his squash generation, as someone who cared deeply that people played the game RIGHT and as one of squash’s truly legendary figures for nearly half a century.

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