(SAMOA) — La'auli Alan Grey was an icon of rugby and sports. And Samoa loved him dearly.
When the Manu Samoa Sevens take the field in Hong Kong this weekend, they'll wear black armbands to honour him, a fitting tribute to the man who single-handedly propelled the Manu Samoa to the world stage.
La'auli, who was laid to rest last month in Afiamalu following a state funeral, devoted his life to the sport and the development of Samoa.
Hundreds joined the Grey family and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, to bid him farewell.
Manu Samoa 7s Head Coach Sir Gordon Tietjens said it was a sad day for the nation and remembered La'auli as "an exemplary man."
"He has left behind a huge pair of shoes to fill and as the man responsible for taking Manu Samoa brand to the world, Samoa should be proud," said Sir Gordon.
La’auli’s personal contributions in business were also celebrated last week. He was a hotelier, humble and unassuming with a generous heart, who poured much of his business profits from the Aggie Grey's Hotel into Samoan rugby.
The Government of Samoa accorded him the highest of accolades for his achievements. After La'auli retired from rugby, he received the Samoa Order of Merit award in 1993.
La’auli served as Union Secretary, Treasurer, Chairman and Vice Chairman before he retired.
He was unique and one-of-a-kind.
Uaea Laki Apelu, who worked alongside La'auli in orchestrating the rise of rugby in the 1990s, recalled: "it was trying times for Samoa Rugby before it was rebranded as Manu Samoa."
“But La’auli was never fazed, always patient, calm and committed," Apelu noted. "He remained true to his passion to lift Samoa Rugby to the next level.”
Apelu was one of the four elites along with La’auli, Piliopo Maia’i and Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale who orchestrated the rise of Manu Samoa from the ground in the early 1990s to stardom.
Apelu, Tuatagaloa and Mrs. Maia’i were in charge of the logistics and with limited resources available, it was no walk in the park.
La’auli was the patriarch and single financier of the campaign to the 1991 World Cup. He financed all the qualification games and recharge expenses — travel, accommodations and player allowances which amounted to millions.
As the world witnessed first-hand, history was made in the 1991 World Cup with Samoa catapulting into the world arena with their historic win over Wales.
It was the first time a seeded nation had lost to a non-seed in the competition and the first Wales defeat at the hands of the underrated Samoans.
Again, in the 1995 World Cup, it was La’auli who single handedly financed the Samoa Rugby Union’s campaign.
Back then, there was no hand out from the International Rugby Board, which has since been renamed World Rugby.
Corporate sponsorship from the business sector was scarce and government was not even on board to assist with the Union’s financial plight.
But La’auli marched on pouring his financial resources and his business Aggie Grey’s Hotel unselfishly, elevating Manu Samoa to become the world darlings of rugby.
That enormous debt along with La’auli’s personal and business sacrifices remain unpaid.
Sir Gordon said La’auli’s passing was “a very sad day for Samoa," and extended his condolences to the Grey family.
He died Saturday, March 24 at Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital at the age of 82. Funeral services were held at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Cathedral at Mulivai, Wednesday, March 28, 2018. He was interred at Afiamalu. La'auli is survived by his wife Mrs. Marina Grey and three children, daughters Aggie and Tanya and son Fred Grey.
The Hong Kong Sevens is April 6-8 at Hong Kong Stadium, just six days before the Gold Coast Sevens during the Commonwealth Games.
Samoa is in Pool A with Fiji, New Zealand and Russia.
(Source: Media Release, Press Secretariat, Office of the Prime Minister & Cabinet)