"Forget that Sir Nicholas carry-on.... call me Nick."
So call him Nick I did for decades.
Nick was special. On first meeting, there was the fear of being intimidated as he was such a large, robust man of great depth, knowledge and versatility with considerable political clout. One could easily be overwhelmed by his large shadow, but, if he liked you and could trust you, he embraced you. You were a mate of his for life. There was no lofty pedestal to climb. He loved the common man. He was the common man who made good. In basic terms, there was no bull about Nick. He relished those who like himself stood their ground.
That is why his passing in Sydney late on Sunday night will hit so many so hard. His was a big world. He had contacts, comrades, acquaintances in so many areas made during 92 summers of what he rightfully termed in his 2003 autobiography as "a life worth living".
Nick's role in Australian and international rugby can never be underestimated. He ranks among its most influential figures -- first as a forward boasting 30 Test appearances between 1947 and 1958 and then more importantly as an administrator. Not just for Australian rugby, but for world rugby.
Without Nick, the Rugby World Cup would not have started in 1987. Due to concerns of a breakaway World Rugby circus in the early 80s, Nick, then Australian Rugby Union president, gained the support of its executive to 'save our game and not lose it to some entrepreneur' by organising a World Cup. He then won the support of the New Zealand Rugby Union, in particular its chairman, Dick Littlejohn.
Thus began 'The Nick and Dick Show', taking on the northern hemisphere, where the majority of officials had absolutely no interest in the concept. That didn't deter Nick or Dick, who relentlessly lobbied International Rugby Board delegates. They were fobbed off, laughed at by many.
At a dinner with the Scotland Rugby Union executive, Nick was 'ridiculed' by their treasurer, Gordon Masson, "who told me in no uncertain terms that rugby was their game and they didn't need us; a World Cup would be staged over his dead body he said".
Nick, as usual, didn't back off.
"When the World Cup is held," Nick said to Masson, "don't bother coming."
"The irony was that in 1991, when the World Cup took place in the UK, Masson was the president of Scotland Rugby Union and escorted Princess Anne onto the field several times. When he saw me, I confronted him and pinched him to see if he was still alive," Nick wrote.
At the IRB meeting in 1985, Scotland and Ireland voted against a World Cup but 'The Nick and Dick Show' won the battle because England's John Kendall-Carpenter and Wales' Keith Rowlands sided with the Australian, New Zealand and French delegates for an 8-6 final vote tally.
As the Sydney Lord Mayor, SBS chairman, Sydney Cricket Ground Trust chairman and husband of a much-loved NSW Governor Marie Bashir, Nick was accustomed to dealing with high flyers. But he was never aloof. Instead, this charismatic figure loved nothing better than being with his old rugby mates.
For years, Nick attended the Wallabies player reunions organised by another former Test player of renown Jim Phipps every six months at Ettalong north of Sydney. With representative players of various vintages, Nick would take the ferry from Palm Beach to the Central Coast for a joyous afternoon of yarning about good times, good tours, good Tests, good fellowship.
Nick would always sit at the function next to his old Wallabies room-mate, Eric Tweedale.
Tweedale was for the 1947-48 Wallaby tour of Great Britain tour given the special task of looking after 'the baby of the team', and from that endured the most lasting of friendships. Nick and Eric were in contact every week for well over half a century. Nick relished talking about that tour -- and was intensely proud of the fact that in the four Tests against the Home Countries the Wallabies did not have their try-line crossed.
He was as delighted that Tweedale and Arthur Buchan became his room-mates on the tour, after suffering the sometimes uncontrollable 'Wallaby' Bob McMaster of World Championship Wrestling fame on the long ship voyage to England.
McMaster would come into their cabin "after a drink or two, and promptly put a hefty headlock on me, calling me 'Midnight', and I would end up being thrown against the wall".
In the next cabin was Canon Hammond, the rector of St Philips Church in Sydney.
"I had to apologise for the noise and tell him that Bob was just out of the army and suffering from war nerves," Nick said.
Another rugby moment of pride came at the end of the 1957-58 Wallabies tour when Nick was invited to play for the Barbarians against his teammates at Cardiff Arms Park. He was as enthused about 'the odd jab in the ribs' he received during the game from those who only a few days earlier had been arm-in-arm with him in the Australian scrum. It reminded him that his Aussie colleagues were always 'fair dinkum'.
Nick won't be forgotten, because his footprint was so large. And as far as the Rugby World Cup is concerned, he should never be forgotten.
A noble gesture would see the Rugby World Cup player of the tournament from Japan 2019 onwards receive the Sir Nicholas Shehadie Trophy. It's the least world rugby can do to recognise one of its best servants.