Jean-Pierre Bodis, whom many regard as rugby's greatest historian, died on Monday evening in a nursing home near Bayonne after a long and troubled time of ill health. He had just turned 69.
Bodis and his wife Maïté were both university people - he in history, she in English. Maïté's English was impeccable, Jean-Pierre's exuberant, but then he was an exuberant, enthusiastic, gregarious man. After Maïté died of cancer in 2002, Jean-Pierre entered a period of great suffering.
Bodis was born at the small village of Saint-Nazaire de Lauzun in Basque country. He lived in a tiny hamlet neat Saint-Palais, not far from Pau, in Basque Country. He died in Bayonne in the land of the Basque. But above all he was a Frenchman and did not believe in the preservation of the Basque language because it was so limited in use. But he was much more than a Frenchmen, a man with a wide view of the world and a great love especially for South Africa, Ireland and, after spending some time there, of the South Pacific Islands. He asked that his ashes be scattered in South Africa but that is difficult for the family and they will instead be scattered on Maïté's grave.
Being a man of the south-west, Bodis was a rugby man and it was rugby that powered his world view. He really was an historian, by training and profession (in the history department of the University of Pau) and in his many writings.
Dr Philip Dine of the University of Galway called Bodis 'the foremost historian of the rugby game – from any country, and in any language' calling his thesis for his 1986 doctorate (Rugby, Politique et Société dans le monde des origines du jeu à nos jours: Étude comparée) Proust-like in its scale and ambition. Dine speaks of Bodis's 'characteristically French blend of scientific imagination and professional determination'.
Bodis's writings include Rugby En Aquitaine written with Jean-Pierre Augustin, Le Rugby - De L'esprit De Clocher À La Coupe Du Monde, Histoire Mondiale Du Rugby, Le Rugby Sud-Africain - Histoire D'un Sport En Politique, Le rugby d'Irlande: Identite, territorialite and L'Encyclopédie du Rugby written with Pierre Lafond. He had a great collection of biographical detail of rugby internationals around the world.
Bodis was a remarkably generous man with his time and with the knowledge he had garnered and remarkably humble, declaring: "We do not have all the truth. We just get nearer to the truth."
Add to all that his warm hospitality and great sense of humour, hear him reciting his party piece in English on the sexual life of the camel, and you had the most lovable of men.
Jean-Pierre Bodis was born on 2 July 1942 and died on 4 July 2011, survived by his daughters Emmanuelle and Bénédicte and five grandchildren, the fifth, a boy, born just recently to Emmanuelle.
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